The good news is the No. 23 Utah Utes (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) are 4-0 on the season and started Pac-12 Conference play 1-0 for the third-straight year with their 30-24 win against Arizona. The Wildcats are the best team the Utes have faced so far this season, but they might be the weakest Pac-12 team the Utes will face all year. Utah is through four of their five easiest games according to our preseason rankings on game difficulty and various statistical prediction metrics (the only other remaining game is the home tilt against Arizona State). According to ESPN’s FPI metric, the Utes have the second-toughest remaining schedule of any team in the country. Utah gets two weeks to recover from this game and prepare for Stanford at home on Saturday, Oct. 7.
Utes Lose Several Key Players to Injuries
We might not have learned much here, but one of the biggest concerns to come out of this game was injuries to quarterback Tyler Huntley and defensive ends Kylie Fitts and Bradlee Anae. Anae’s seemed the least serious, and he should be back for the Stanford game, but it is hard to know what happened to Fitts and especially Huntley. Troy Williams performed admirably in relief of Huntley and has two weeks to prepare for Stanford if Huntley is out. Utah is fortunate to have a Pac-12 starter as their backup quarterback. Utah has depth at defensive end, and Chris Hart played really well late in the game for Utah at defensive end. Utah also has players like Maxs Tupai and Caleb Repp who can step in at defensive end if Fitts misses time.
Mistakes for Utah continue
Utah made some familiar mistakes in this game. The Utes committed nine penalties for 83 yards against Arizona. The Utes have committed six or more penalties in every game this season and average 9.3 penalties for 91.3 yards per game. Utah went 4-for-4 in the red zone, but they only scored two red zone touchdowns and fumbled the ball just outside the red zone in the first quarter, which was one of Utah’s two turnovers in the game. One of those turnovers was the result of a bad long snap, which was a theme in the game with several other snaps barely avoiding further disaster. Utah also consistently struggled to wrap up the Arizona players, frequently missing tackles allowing Arizona to gain extra yards. The Utes were only 2-for-10 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down. The Utes are dead last in the Pac-12 in third down conversions, only converting 32.69 percent of the time (17-for-52 on the season). In conversion, the Utes defense allowed the Wildcats to convert on eight of their 19 third downs and two out of three fourth downs. The Utes were out gained 448 to 341 in the game. Havoc plays are what saved Utah. They forced five turnovers, including a pick-six, and blocked two field goals.
Running backs looked better
The Utes did not do a ton of damage on the ground, but the running backs were effective when they were called on. Zack Moss looked decisive in his running and averaged 5.2 yards per carry rushing for 73 yards on 14 carries. Devonta’e Henry-Cole added 43 yards on 11 carries. Watching the game, I felt the running backs looked better than the stats reflect. The numbers are likely dragged down a bit by late-game runs that were stopped when Arizona knew runs were coming. The Utes did a nice job of getting Moss the ball on more north-south runs where he is his most effective. The running backs could have been a bit better down the stretch to seal the win, but I thought it was overall a good performance from Moss and Henry-Cole, especially early in the game when Huntley was still playing.