Three takeaways from Utah’s dominant win over Arizona
Cameron Rising returned to the field, the Utah defense made life miserable on the quarterback opposite Rising, and No. 14 Utah simply overpowered Arizona Saturday night in the rain for a 45-20 win.
The victory kept Utah (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) in prime position to return to the Pac-12 title game next month. It also dropped Arizona to 3-6 on the year and 1-5 in Pac-12 play. The Wildcats will need to win out (UCLA, Washington State, Arizona State) to reach bowl eligibility.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
Utah owns the line of scrimmage
In the lead-up to the game, Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said the defending Pac-12 champions offered a litmus test of sorts. The Wildcats would be able to gauge where they’re at in the rebuild by how effective they were against a team that has been a real standard-bearer in the Pac-12.
The result was pretty clear. Arizona has overhauled the skill talent of the offense. It’s a better team than a year ago. But it has a long way to go at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.
Utah ran for 313 yards at 5.8 a carry (adjusted for sacks). It was the third time this season an Arizona opponent ran for 300 yards.
Making matters worse for the UA, it was obvious what was coming and the defense still couldn’t stop it. Utah wants to run the football to set up other pieces of its offense. This is known. Rising looked to still show the effects of a knee injury that sidelined him against Washington State, he was missing his top target in the pass game — Dalton Kincaid, who is his top target because his other top target, Brant Kuithe, is also hurt — and it was raining sideways throughout the evening. Not exactly an ideal situation for throwing the ball.
Utah had a 28-10 lead at halftime as the ground game carved up Arizona.
On the other side, Utah’s defense was tenacious. It sacked Arizona quarterback Jayden de Laura three times and made him uncomfortable often. The Utes had de Laura — prone to run hot and cold this year — playing antsy.
Arizona fumbled the football seven times, losing four. De Laura was credited with five of those fumbles. He lost two of them, including one on the Wildcats’ opening possession.
Utes seemingly sort out the backfield
It felt safe to think the Utes had settled the backfield.
Tavion Thomas played after missing last week’s game. Micah Bernard also had a role after being extremely limited. Ja’Quinden Jackson led the team with 13 carries for 97 yards and a score. Bernard had 12 carries, totaling 48 yards. Freshman back Jaylon Glover got eight carries for 69 yards. Thomas had 38.
Jackson showed some serious comfort running the football. He had a goal line fumble on a play that also left him injured, but I thought he and Glover had strong days in tandem. That duo certainly looks like one the Utes can build off of.
Bernard is going to play. He’s earned the coaches’ trust, and he’s too valuable a player to not find ways to use, but it shouldn’t be overlooked that Jaylon and JJ — as they shall henceforth be known — have provided the group with some consistency and stability.
So, naturally, both hobbled off the field in the second half. Utah’s injury issues on the offensive side of the the football this season have been unrelenting. Something to monitor going forward.
De Laura will be a world-beater against UCLA
It was a 45-10 game with four minutes to play in the fourth quarter. A safety on a mishandled punt and then a late score from freshman quarterback Noah Fifita to freshman wideout Tetairoa McMillan gave the Wildcats half their points in the game’s final five minutes.
Take the tape and burn it. Arizona made poor decision. There were third-and-1 plays that saw de Laura throw 30 yards downfield and 10 yards past his receiver. There were pass plays that saw him hold the ball a touch too long. There were pass plays that saw him too anxious to leave the pocket.
He finished 10-for-20 for 159 yards through the air.
As a team, Arizona played as poor a game as it has all season. Individually, de Laura played one of his poorer games.
And that means he’ll probably throw for 400 yards in the Rose Bowl next week against UCLA.
The Wildcats have shown progress already this season. It would be hard to overstate just how beneficial a bowl game (and all the extra practices) would be for this young Wildcat team.