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Utah opponent preview: Arizona’s offense

Houston v Arizona Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Arizona. On a short week. Away.

If you’ve been following Utah football since it joined the Pac-12, these are unsettling words- the Utes have lost four of the last six to the Wildcats, and win or lose, it’s never a confidence-inspiring game. But let’s take a bit of a deep dive (and a deep breath) into the Arizona offense to see how our ever-stout defense will hold up this Friday night in the desert.

Arizona Offense

Outside of a close home loss to a well-coached Houston team (shoutout to Brian Johnson, the new OC), Arizona has won its other two games in blowout fashion, averaging 62.5 points per win. In racking up these points, the Wildcats rely heavily on a read-option attack led by Quarterback Brandon Dawkins and a committee of running backs that have racked up an impressive 984 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns in three games. The passing “attack” is a different story for Arizona. Dawkins has only attempted 62 passes over three games, resulting in 42 completions, four scores, and a mere 422 yards.

But these statistics don’t get to the bottom of what the Utes will be facing. A more telling story, one that should motivate Morgan Scalley and his defense to keep Arizona out of Utah territory, is that Arizona is 12/13 in the red zone, with 11 touchdowns (!) and one field goal. They’ve only allowed three sacks and three turnovers in as many games. This team is ranked 11th in the FBS in scoring offense. While casual fans and experts alike can debate the merits of the defenses Arizona has faced, on paper this offense looks potent.

If I’m going to call the Arizona offense “potent,” then describing the Utah defense as “stingy” makes a lot of sense. Boasting an FBS total defensive ranking of 12 through three games, Utah already has six picks, three fumble recoveries, and nine sacks. It has given up a mere 148 rushing yards in three games, forcing opposing offenses to claw their way to 1.66 yards per carry. The Utah defense, per usual, is for real.

On the defensive side of the ball, this game will boil down to the answers to three simple questions:

First, will the linebackers and defensive ends have watched enough film? While Sunia Tauteoli and Co. have the physical attributes to blow up plays and keep contain, they’ve yet to face an offense that relies so much on misdirection and “hide the ball” tactics. Playing a zone-read heavy offense is just as much about the mind as it is the body, and preparing for this game will require film study outside of practice in addition to a scout team mimicking Arizona’s offense.

Second, will Chase Hansen be in pads or street clothes? Hansen is an NFL talent that is the heart and brains of this defense. He makes a difference defending on the ground and in the air. The Utes will need him to play against a more athletic and worthy Pac 12 opponent (sorry BYU, you’re just not that, well, good).

Third, can Utah keep the penalties under control? The answer to this question lies more accurately on the offensive side of the football, but the defense has been careless at times as well. The Utes cannot afford to give up chunk yardage on defensive holding or pass interference calls, nor can it lose a star player to targeting, a la the BYU game.

The Arizona offense/Utah defense matchup looks to be an intriguing one. Let’s hope the defense has its mind right heading to Tuscon. Coming up next, we’ll have a breakdown of the Arizona defense.