Saturday is Homecoming on the Arizona campus, and it will surely be a weekend filled with festivities and pride as alumni from across the nation return to Tucson to reminisce and enjoy a fun filled weekend.
This is the last game for the ZonaZoo in 2011, as the final home game of the year against Louisiana-Lafayette is over the Thanksgiving holiday. For a student fan base that has really lost hope in its team this season, a good showing against Utah may be enough to revitalize the group and start to put a little bit of excitement back heading into 2012.
But most importantly, this game matters to the seniors, who are in the middle of their worst season in their four years as Wildcats. For a group that includes program greats such as Nick Foles and Juron Criner, as well as team leaders like Robert Golden, Trevin Wade, David Douglas, and David Roberts, a win Saturday certainly won't salvage the season, but it'll definitely help make it hurt less.
For a group that has played in three straight bowl games and helped bring Arizona football back out of mediocrity, Saturday's game is a part of a senior season coming to a close. While a victory over Utah won't do much for Arizona's chances in the Pac-12 South, it will mean plenty to a senior class whose time in Arizona Stadium is wearing thin.
It'll be no easy task however, as Utah comes to Arizona Stadium with one of the conference's best defenses. Last week against Oregon State, the Utes held the Beavers to just 32 yards on 26 rushing attempts en route to a 27-8 victory in Salt Lake City.
This weekend's results don't mean much in terms of the standings for the Wildcats, but it certainly matters in the hearts of a team that has been through so much over four seasons and especially this year.
After a tough loss in Seattle against Washington last week, Tim Kish has the difficult task of turning his team around and getting it prepared for this week's contest against Utah.
For a team that has shown the fans much fewer highs than lows this season, Saturday's game is another chance for Arizona to prove how much pride and commitment it has with four games to go in the season.
Players to watch:
#10- WR, Devonte Christopher: With all of the struggles Jon Hays has had taking over for Jordan Wynn, he's going to rely heavily on his number one receiver to get him in a rhythm. That should make Christopher both the focal point of Utah's passing attack and Arizona's pass defense, as Hays is likely to try to get the ball to his top wideout as many times as he can.
#15- RB, John White IV: Last week against Oregon State, the L.A. Harbor College transfer set a career high with 205 yards rushing on 35 carries. White has run for at least 150 yards on four different occasions this season, and at 5-foot-8, 190 pounds is a hard nosed runner that is capable of delivering punishing blows and carrying the Utah offense.
#4- LB, Brian Blechen: A Freshman All-American a year ago, Blechen has picked up right where he left off. His versatility is what makes him stand out, as he ranks second on the team in tackles and his two interceptions are tied for the best on the squad. With the ability to step up and shut down the run as well as drop back into pass coverage, Blechen is a linebacker that will need to be accounted for on each and every down.
#49- LB, Trevor Reilly: The current Pac-12 sacks leader so far in 2011, Reilly is a former walk-on that has developed into a very productive player. Utah will try to get him on the field in obvious passing downs to harass Foles, and before each snap, the offensive line will need to identify his whereabouts to prevent him from making plays in Arizona's backfield all game long.
#26- CB, Ryan Lacy: Lacy anchors a passing defense that currently ranks third in the Pac-12, and is tied with Blechen for the team lead in interceptions. With 37 tackles and a sack, it's clear that Lacy has a lot of freedom and responsibility within the Utah defense and will be asked to make plays all over the field against Arizona's high powered passing attack.
#90- DE, Derrick Shelby: With all of the blitzing options available to Utah, Shelby is one player that will try to get after Foles on every down. He ranks behind Reilly on the team with four sacks, and he is the type of quick, hard-nosed end that can anchor the defensive line in run support and the pass rush. He'll be a very tough challenge for Arizona's young tackles, and will likely loom large in Utah's ability to stop UA's passing attack.
Keys to the game:
1. Stop the run: With the worst passing offense in the Pac-12, it's likely Utah will run every down if it can. If Arizona can take away the run from the Utes, it's going to make it very hard for its opponent to have success offensively.
2. Keep Foles upright: Utah is one of the top pass rushing teams in the conference, as nine players have recorded at least one sack this year. It also has the Pac-12's top sack man in Reilly, and will definitely pose a challenge for the UA offensive line. With how good Utah is at stopping the run, it is imperative for the offensive line of Arizona to keep Foles on his feet and hitting receivers.
3. Pressure Hays Utah's junior quarterback has had a rough time replacing Jordan Wynn within the offense, and has had trouble moving the ball through the air. If Arizona can get after him and force him to make quick, risky throws, it will likely be able to force him into bad passes and turnovers.
4. No turnovers: Arizona's four turnovers against Washington crippled its chances of victory in Seattle, and against a defense as tough at Utah's, as well as poor of an offense as the one the Utes boast, UA can ill afford to give up chances at points and give its opponents extra opportunities to score.
5. Send the Seniors out right: This is the final conference home game for a group of seniors led by Foles, and in an otherwise disparaging season, it would be a small consolation for them to go out of Pac-12 play with a win. For the juniors and the underclassmen, it would be a nice tribute to their older teammates to play with maximum effort and intensity and send these seniors out the right way.