After the Utes fell to the California Bears last week for their first loss of the season injuries overflowed and concerns started to rumble at the true depth of Utah. This week the Utah Utes face the Arizona Wildcats and while the worries still linger the opponent is not in any better shape. Here are three ways the Utes can get back on track.
1. Big defensive plays
For the second week in a row Utah’s defense looked lifeless and like an empty shell of the powerhouse that usually leads this team. It is becoming quickly apparent the impact losing Kylie Fitts for the season and Lowell Lotulelei indefinitely has had on this team. Over the past two weeks the Utes have accounted for two sacks, one interception, and three fumbles total. This is not the usual impact we are used to seeing from the Utes who in a single game during week three against San Jose State had 10 sacks, two interceptions, and forced one fumble. If losing Fitts and Lotulelei were not enough, the Utes were also without a major backfield contributor Reggie Porter. Against the number one passing offense in the PAC 12, Cal, the Utes suffered several times in the secondary and two of those mistakes resulted in touchdowns for the Bears. Working through injuries and finding a way back to explosive defensive play will allow the Utes to bounce back and secure a victory against Arizona.
2. Red zone productivity
If we chose a kryptonite for Utah through the first five games it would unanimously be the red zone. The Utah offense has struggled consistently with efficiency in the red zone all season long and this was no different in week five against the California Bears. It was the brawl they finally lost after week in and week out of scraping by with poor red zone productivity. With five opportunities to capitalize in the red zone versus the Bears, Utah only scored three times. During the last drive of the game against the Bears, Utah had seven chances to score inside the Cal 10-yard line and two of those from the 1-yard line. Currently the Utes sit at the bottom of the PAC in red zone scoring percentage and Arizona finds themselves in the middle, although higher than Cal, at allowing red zone conversions.
3. The next man up battle
There are a lot of battles Utah needs to overcome to secure a win against the Wildcats. Win the turnover battle. Win the conversion battle. Win the red zone battle. Perhaps the most critical battle that the Utes need to win however is the “next man up battle.” Currently the Utes find themselves on at least the third-string center, multiple back-up wide receivers, several beginning of the season second-strings on the defensive line, and the list goes on and on. With the fashion in which Utah football is suffering with injuries it seems illusory that another team might have it worse. It is possible that the Arizona Wildcats are that team. Arizona finds themselves trying to make it work with their third-string quarterback, Khalil Tate, fourth-string running back, and after losing three major playmakers on defense are currently filling those spots with walk-on players. With both Utah and Arizona bruised and beaten down, it will be key for the new guys to come up big for their respective teams. This could be the difference between a win and a loss for Utah.
With a four-loss streak against Arizona with head coach Rich Rodriguez at the helm and coming off a last minute loss, the lingering question is will Utah be able to finally shake the Wildcats off their back and come away with a victory?