Arizona defeats Utah 34-24 to clinch a winning season
It wasn’t easy, but the fourth time was the charm for Arizona (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) as it came away with its first road victory of the season, a 34-24 victory over Utah (4-7, 2-6) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Wildcats had one final chance to pick up a victory away from home, and the rainy weather and a strong performance by Utah’s quarterback Travis Wilson made it tough. But the return of quarterback Matt Scott and the inspired running of Ka’Deem Carey gave Arizona its second straight win and clinched a bowl berth in head coach Rich Rodriguez’s first season in charge.
Utah’s loss on senior night eliminated it from bowl eligibility, as the Arizona ground game proved too strong for the Utes. Carey had 204 yards rushing, after setting a conference record the previous game, and a score and Scott added 74 yards of his own despite being off in the passing game.
Scott went just 12-for-27 for 160 yards and a touchdown, easily his worst passing performance of the season. But with how well the Wildcats attacked on the ground, the lack of a consistent attack wasn’t enough to derail the Wildcats.
It was clear from the start that Scott wasn’t sharp in his first action since suffering a concussion in the second half of a Nov. 3 loss to UCLA. The senior fumbled the game’s opening snap and then went 2-for-7 on a drive dominated by Carey.
Arizona came away empty, though, as the drive stalled on a failed 4th and 23. Failures on fourth down were a common theme in the opening minutes for both teams. Utah’s first two drives ended on a turnover on downs, including run on 4th and one from the UA 4-yard-line that was stuffed by the Arizona defense.
The Wildcats drew first blood in the game with a 44-yard field goal by senior kicker John Bonano. But Utah quickly answered with a little bit of trickery, a tactic coach Kyle Whittingham used all night.
The Utes faked a short field goal and kicker Colem Peterson took the pitch and scampered untouched into the end zone. The trick play came on the heels of a 42-yard flea flicker earlier in the drive by Wilson to DeVonte Christopher.
Wilson went 28-for-40 for 311 yards and two touchdowns while senior running back John White also played well with 112 yards on 27 attempts.
The Arizona offense began to regain its earlier form after falling into the early deficit. The Wildcats had 198 yards at half, but a Scott fumble late in the half at the Utah 10-yard-line kept the game at 17-14 after two quarters. It was the Wildcat’s second lost fumble of the half.
The Utes’ strong defense finally found its footing in the third quarter, holding Arizona to just six yards on its first two possessions. Wilson and the Utah offense took advantage through the air, and after DeVonte Christopher took a 36-yard yard catch into the end zone, the Utes had a 24-17 lead.
Arizona’s third quarter struggles became a thing of the past as running back Daniel Jenkins capped of an 11-play, 75 yard drive with his second touchdown of the season at the start of the fourth quarter. Then, after linebacker Marquis Flowers stopped a fake punt by Utah, Scott hit receiver Austin Hill for an 18-yard touchdown and a 31-24 advantage.
Hill — a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver — was the Wildcats’ leading receiver with 96 yards on six catches and the one score.
The game was still in the balance until Wilson’s pass on 4th-and-4 to receiver Kenneth Scott came up short, giving Arizona the ball on the Utah 30-yard-line with just 3:29 remaining in the game. Bonano hit his second field goal of the game from 24-yards out to clinch the victory.