After 311 days, University of Utah Utes will finally hit the gridiorn, kicking off their 2020 football season against the Arizona Wildcats this Saturday. Coming off a PAC-12 South championship season that saw the Utes fall to the high-powered Oregon Ducks in the conference championship, followed by a humiliating loss to the Longhorns of Texas in the Alamo Bowl on New Years Eve, Kyle Whittingham and company have a real chance of starting their abbreviated, conference-only season on a high note against an Arizona team that has plenty of question marks surrounding them.
For Arizona, it all starts with sophomore quarterback, Grant Gunnell. At 6’6”, 228 lbs., Gunnell’s frame is a prototypical QB, completing 101 of 155 pass attempts last season for 1,239 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception in his limited time last season. As pure pocket passer, Gunnell is far from head coach Kevin Summlin’s typical mobile passer, gaining just 14 yards on 32 attempts in total last season, with his longest run topping out at just 12 yards, leaving senior running back, Garry Brightwell to control the ground game.
Upon losing star rusher, JJ Taylor to the NFL in the offseason, Brightwell looks poised to step into a larger role in 2020 after averaging 390 yards on 66 attempts as the secondary running back in Arizona’s offense last season. A patient, but violent runner, Brightwell has speed and field vision that may draw comparisons to Utah’s own all-team leading rusher, Zack Moss, and could likely be one of the most dangerous players the Wildcats offense fields in the season opener.
Downfield, Utah’s secondary will be tasked with guarding some young talent in sophomore wide receiver Boobie Curry (6’2”, 203 lbs.) and redshirt junior Brian Casteel (6’0”, 185 lbs.). Curry, who was limited to just five games in a limited role in 2019 has six receptions to his name of a total of 68 yards, including a lone reception against the Utes for 20 yards in Arizona’s 35-7 loss. Casteel, however, is a known commodity racking up 397 yards through the air last season on 45 receptions with three touchdowns.
Perhaps the most dangerous player on the offensive side of the ball come Saturday will be sophomore slot receiver, Jamarye Joiner. After moving from quarterback to receiver before the 2019 season, Joiner is a speedster with magnetic hands, accounting for 552 yards on just 34 receptions last season with five touchdowns to his name. The comparison between him, and Utah’s Britain Covey could easily become the main story line after the PAC-12’s opening weekend wraps up.
Arizona has failed to record a winning season in the Kevin Sumlin era, going 9-15 in his tenure, and with a lack of explosive, tenured players on the offensive side of the ball, Utah’s defense should have an opportunity to find their groove before taking on the likes of USC and Arizona state in the coming weeks.