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TUCSON, AZ - The University of Utah Utes (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) travels to Tucson, AZ to take on the University of Arizona Wildcats (2-6, 1-5 Pac-12) on Saturday.
Both teams are struggling in conference play with only one win each, the Utes to Oregon St. last week and the Cats to UCLA two weeks ago. Both teams need the win to stay on track for bowl eligibility and a loss for the Wildcats would mean they get to stay home and watch the bowls on TV and the Utes would be one win away from a bowl. Let's look at how these teams stack up on paper, not that it means a whole lot.
Ute Offense vs. Wildcat Defense
This very well could be the key to this matchup and is the weakest part of each team statistically. The Utes are ranked 112th nationally in total offense whereas the Wildcats have a pretty porous defense ranking 113th. Utah only averages 306 yards per game and Arizona allows an average of 467. Utah has a better running attack in John White IV and he is going to have to have a big game for Utah to win. Norm Chow, offensive coordinator, might need to test the defensive backs for the Wildcats who allow 293 yards through the air. However, Ute quarterback John Hays is only averaging 115 yards a game passing, and as always ball security is key. The Utes have turned the ball over 18 times in their eight games. 15 of the Utes turnovers have come in all four of their losses, two turnovers came in the BYU game where they led by a plus five turnover margin and they also lost a fumble against OSU.
The most important stat of all of course is scoring and in over-all scoring the Utes rank 88th averaging only 23 points per game and the Wildcats defense is ranked 109th in points allowed averaging close to 35. Keep in mind this stat also includes special teams and defensive scores as well as offensive scores.
Ute Defense vs. Wildcat Offense
Here are the strengths of each team. The Utes have the 22nd overall defense in the nation only allowing 326 yards per game and only 21 points. However, Arizona has the 19th ranked offense in the nation gaining over 465 yards per game, 376 through the air (good for third best nationally) and scoring over 30 points. Utah is great at stopping the run but unfortunately for the Utes the Wildcats don't run a whole lot so the front seven are going to need to get pressure on Wildcat QB Nick Foles who has been intercepted eight times so far this year. The Utes give up close to 235 yards through the air and if they can keep Foles and the Wild cats close to their, the Utes', average I do believe that the Utes will win.
The Utes' secondary are going to need to cover a trio of Wildcat receivers: Juron Criner, Gino Crump and Dan Buckner who between them account for over half of the passing yards and TDs. Those three receivers also average over ten yards per catch. The Utes can't let these guys behind them or they will get burned.
Special teams play is not all that special for either team, that is to say neither teams get much return yards out of their punt or kick-off returns. Both teams have also allowed one punt returned for a TD and Utah has allowed a kick-off return for a TD. Utah gains more yardage on their returns than Arizona does but not by a huge margin, only a three yard difference on punts and two yards on kick-offs. Now let's put some coach speak into this part and say the Utes needs to play disciplined in all facets of the game, BYU found out last week what happens with some muffed punt snaps.
In summary the Utes need to take care of the ball, no turnovers, get the passing game going all while letting White IV carry the team and try shutting down the passing attack of the Wildcats. If the Utes can do all that they should win, if not it could turn into another Pac-12 loss.