Utah defended its home turf with ease on Friday night, defeating the Arizona Wildcats 42-10.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley turned in a near-perfect performance for the Utes. The dual-threat QB completed 14 of 19 passes for 201 yards, two touchdowns and scored an additional touchdown rushing. He helped the Utah offense drive methodically down the Wildcats’ throat en route to 495 total yards.
On the flip side of the ball, Arizona was forced to utilize a trio of signal-callers, each ultimately being abused in a different way.
Season-long starter quarterback Khalil Tate exited the game on the team’s third offensive series and never returned. His presumed replacement, freshman Jamarye Joiner, filled in for the hobbled quarterback for several series before handing the reins to former-head-coach Richard Rodriguez’s son Rhett.
Despite piecing together more success than either of the other two passers, posting a final stat line that included 226 passing yards and one touchdown, Rodriguez constantly dealt with pressure in his face and was routinely victimized in the backfield.
Unfortunately for Arizona, Friday night was the continuation of the same miscues and deficiencies that have plagued the Wildcats all season long.
Arizona’s defense was quick to force the Utes into third-and-long scenarios, but, following its trend, Marcel Yates’ unit couldn’t have appeared more lost when the down and distance was in their favor.
After a debilitating first drive in which Utah was on the field for more than seven minutes, eventually putting the finishing touches on a 15-play, 75-yard scoring trip, Arizona’s offense took the field with a spirit that was evidently lacking.
Similar to the slow start that set the Wildcats back in its matchup versus Houston earlier this year, Arizona’s offense simply never found a groove on Friday night.
With interchanging pieces behind center and a disregard for situational play-calling on the coaching end, the Wildcats were limited to just 318 yards of total offense, the majority of which came once the game was inevitably out of reach.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of another frustrating performance by the Wildcats was the confidence that Arizona’s coaching staff seemed to display for its players throughout the course of the game.
A combination of poorly timed play calls and yet another bad decision from head coach Kevin Sumlin shortly before halftime (in which he chose to attempt a field goal with 10 seconds left on the clock and a four-touchdown deficit) wore the Wildcats down, and rightfully so.
In Sumlin’s defense, Arizona was out of timeouts and likely desperate to get on the scoreboard before halftime. The botched try, however, proved that it wasn’t wise to take the ball out of Rodriguez’ hot hand and place it on the tee of former back-up placekicker Josh Pollack.
It’s essential to understand the game’s momentum, yet Sumlin didn’t appear confident enough in his “third-stringer” to have faith in his ability to find the end zone.
Arizona’s best play of the night came via Rodriguez’s fourth-quarter touchdown strike to redshirt junior Cedric Peterson. But it was too little, too late for the Wildcats.
Utah’s dominant first half picked up right where it left off in the third quarter.
Rather than attempting to shield their 28-point lead, the Utes put their expanded playbook to use, pulling off one of the most aesthetically pleasing trick-plays of the entire college football season.
Huntley handed off to running back Zack Moss, who then pitched the ball back to speedy slot receiver Britain Covey.
While the play progressed, Arizona’s defense lost track of Huntley, who was racing down the Utes sideline. Just moments later, Utah’s quarterback made one of the most beautiful plays of the night, corralling Covey’s pass in-stride before celebrating in the end zone.
The play occurred with more than 25 minutes of action to go, but it was the nail in Arizona’s coffin.
The Wildcats’ disappointing night wrapped up by surrendering a fake punt for a game-sealing first down.
Utah punched it in on the ground from 22 yards out for the game’s final score with 6:14 left on the clock.
Arizona didn’t accomplish anything it set out to this weekend, but at least the team will gain an extra day of preparation before next Saturday’s contest versus the UCLA Bruins.
The Wildcats are far from reaching their preseason expectations, but at this point their focus should be on playing winning football.
Sumlin and his staff will look to enhance Arizona’s chances at success by reloading on the recruiting circuit this offseason.
But until then, they have to work with the pieces they have, pieces that have proven to be capable of getting the job done before.
Surely, the primary question ahead of next weekend’s game is this: Who will be lined up behind center?
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