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Utah opponent preview: Arizona’s defense

NCAA Football: Houston at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday we broke down the matchup between Arizona’s offense and the Utah defense. Today let’s flip the script and examine the other side of the ball.

Arizona Defense

Arizona hasn’t exactly had to defend the likes of Oregon or either of the Oklahoma teams this season, so we should take their defensive statistics with a grain of salt. In fact, the offenses they’ve played are about as reliable as Gordon Hayward (I know that has nothing to do with Utah football, but I’m still bitter), with UTEP finishing second to last in the FBS through three weeks. Still, let’s break out the numbers and see what we come up with: Arizona has only given up an average of 18.7 points through three games (impressive). Arizona is the 69th ranked FBS team in total defense, giving up about 387.7 yards a game(not impressive). Arizona already has seven takeaways with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries (impressive). Opponents convert on third down against Arizona 39.1% of the time (not impressive). However, opponents only score 53.8% of the time against Arizona in the red zone (that’s good for 8th place in the FBS and is impressive). Arizona gives up 267.7 yards/game in passing a game, ranked 97th, one behind UTEP (I feel like I’m picking on UTEP, not impressive).

What does all this tell us? Not much, really. So, in an effort to provide some context, I neglected my responsibilities and watched part of the week two Arizona game against Houston. Some takeaways:

• On Houston’s second offensive drive, it took the ball all the way to the Arizona 1. Arizona forced a huge fumble on second and goal, forcing a Houston field goal.

• Arizona gives up big yard pass plays, and gets in trouble with pass interference calls.

• Arizona gave up an 81-yard kickoff return that led to a touchdown (I know that’s special teams, but it seemed relevant).

• Watch out for Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles (No. 6). The Junior Safety had a nice interception early in the third quarter, keeping Arizona in the game. He’s got three picks on the season.

Based on what we’ve seen from Utah thus far, this seems like it should be a good match up for us. I think winning it will come down to the answer to these three questions:

First, and most obviously, can the Utes cut the penalties and turnovers? Admit it, watching the Utah offense against North Dakota and BYU was complete torture. Illegal hands to the face, holding, offensive pass interference, illegal formation. Name a penalty, we committed it. And while Tyler Huntley has only given away two innocuous picks, we’ve now lost four fumbles in three games (that’s more than UTEP! Ok I’m done, sorry UTEP). Playing a clean game will be huge for the Utes on the road.

Second, can Utah get a boost from Zack Moss (or maybe Devonta’e Henry-Cole)? For me, it hasn’t been this fun to watch a Utah offense since 2008. Having a vertical attack and a receiver like Darren Carrington II isn’t something we are accustomed to, and I can’t wait to see what else Troy Taylor has in his bag of tricks (I know there’s a hook and ladder in there somewhere). That being said, having a balanced running game this week might actually be a boon for the Utah defense. Hear me out: we know that Arizona can break off huge plays and score en mass, so why not eat up some clock and slow the game down a bit? Keeping Arizona’s offense off the field and our defense rested might be the move this week.

Third, and for the 3,945th time, can we score TDs in the red zone??? If I have to see 1st and Goal on the 8-yard line turn into another 34-yard Matt Gay field goal, I might have to throw my TV out the window. Let’s be clear- Matt Gay, if you’re reading this for some odd reason, I’m not hating. You’ve exceeded all of our collective expectations, and I secretly think you’re actually Andy Phillips in platform shoes after a year of lifting shoulders (we’re going to need to see some I.D.). But I digress. The only stat I cited above that gave me pause was Arizona’s red zone defense (allowing scores on only 53.8% of trips). Troy Taylor and Co. really need to focus on getting six points on every trip to the red zone this go around, especially if we’re headed for a high scoring affair.

Overall, I like this matchup for the Utes and think if the answer is “yes” to all three questions above, we should be fine against this Arizona D.