Utah’s defense has been a bit inconsistent as of late, but there is plenty of talent and it’s definitely the strength of the team.
The Utes have allowed 4.2 yards per carry and only four rushing touchdowns. In addition, Utah only allows an average of 207 passing yards per contest with only six yards per attempt.
Much of Utah’s strength on defensive comes from its defensive line. Senior Hunter Dimick is one of the better defensive ends in the conference and has seven tackles for loss with five of them being sacks.
On the other end is 6-foot-1, 245-pound senior Pita Taumoepenu. He has 19 tackles, four of which have come for a loss.
Utah’s pass rushing unit is a major strength of its defense and it will be interesting to see how Utah handles the zone read.
The Utes are generally aggressive on the edges, but Arizona may not mind that as much as long as the starting quarterback can make the correct reads.
In addition to those two plays, Utah has strength inside as well. Lowell Lotulelei is one of the better interior defenders in the country and is expected back after missing last week’s game against Cal.
Next to him is 6-foot-3, 278-pound junior Filipo Mokofisi. He has 16 tackles and two sacks, which isn’t easy to do from the inside of the line.
For some reason, Arizona has had success the past few years in pushing the line back and getting to the second level, but this is once again a difficult matchup on paper.
Utah will play two linebackers in addition to a nickel back. At Mac linebacker is 6-foot-0, 226-pound Sunia Tauteoli.
He is easily Utah’s leader in tackles with 37 and has an interception and forced fumble as well. It will be interesting to see if Kyle Whittingham chooses to have Tauteoli in his normal role or if he makes him shadow Khalil Tate.
In addition to Tauteoli, Cody Barton lines up at Rover linebacker. He has 24 tackles and 2.5 for loss.
The starting nickel back is senior Justin Thomas and it feels like he has been at Utah forever. At only 5-foot-8, Thomas has a tough nose for the bowl and good speed, thus making him a candidate to shadow Tate as well.
Porter has two interceptions and tends to be challenged a bit more than Hatfield, as evidenced by his 18 tackles.
Junior Marcus Williams is the starter at free safety and is second on the team with 28 tackles. He also has two interceptions and is the type of player to gives the Utes a big play when they need it.
At strong safety is Chase Hansen, who has similar numbers to Johnson. Hansen was actually a quarterback at one time and has done great with the move.
#14, CB Brian Allen: Allen will get plenty of playing time this weekend and has a team-leading three pass breakups.
#59, DT Pasoni Tasini: He has 5.5 tackles for loss and Arizona needs to be careful to not let him in the backfield all night.
Keys to the Game
1. Establish the run: Easier said than done, especially if Nick Wilson is out like expected. However, it’s hard to imagine Arizona winning without a semblance of a running game.
2. Let Khalil be Khalil: There’s going to be some good and there’s going to be some bad, but Tate is at his best when he is allowed to make plays. Arizona will need some playmakers if it is going to beat Utah and Tate may be the biggest one.
3. Convert on third down: As bad as Arizona has been on third down defensively, it hasn’t been much better offensively. The Wildcats need to do better on third down and be able to extend drives.