Arizona returns to Rice-Eccles Stadium this Saturday to take on Utah in a key Pac-12 South matchup. WildcatAuthority caught up with Utah insider Dan Sorensen to get his take on the Utes.
Utah has struggled with Arizona in the past. Even though the teams are different this season, is there anything you can point your finger at as to why this is?
In my view, Utah has struggled with Arizona for two main reasons. First, the Wildcats have been very effective at spreading the Utes out on defense and attacking where they're weakest. The Arizona offense has always been a matchup problem for the Utah defense, especially early on in Utah's affiliation with the Pac-12, when they didn't have a lot of speed in the secondary or the linebackers.
On the occasions where the Ute defense was able to slow down the Arizona offense, the Utah offense has been erratic. Arizona has defended Utah's running backs well and the lack of consistent quarterback play hurt Utah on more than one occasion. This year, a lot of factors point in Utah's favor, but until the Utes prove they can excel against Rich Rod's schemes, you can't rule the Wildcats out.
How has the offense been this season and is it any different with Troy Williams at quarterback?
The Utah offense has been much better this season at sustaining drives, moving the ball down the field and sustaining drives than they have been the past two years under Travis Wilson. The big problem with the Utah offense is that they haven't been able to finish drives and score touchdowns when they get into the red zone. Twice against Cal last week, the Utes entered the red zone only not to score at all. They faced similar issues in drives against BYU and San Jose State.
When they finally figure out how to finish drives and stop leaving points on the field, the offense has the chance to be formidable. Troy Williams has grown tremendously as a quarterback during the first five games of the season. He's got a good arm and generally makes good decisions. He orchestrated a comeback win over USC from a 14 point deficit and nearly let the Utes to a comeback win over Cal last week. He has played very well thus far and has cut down on his mistakes the past two games.
How much of an impact does the Dielman injury have for this week and the season overall?
It's going to have a huge impact. Dielman was having an excellent senior year and had a good shot at the All-Conference team before he went down. He was also a vocal leader for the line and the offense. His experience and talent will be missed and will be difficult to be replaced. His backup, Lo Falemaka, struggled early on against Cal, but settled down and played well as the game progressed.
However, he's a bit banged up as well. As a result, we might see some new combinations at center and guard if Falemaka isn't healthy enough to play. The Utah offensive line has been a strength on the team this year, and there is definitely talent - even in the backups. However, replacing your center is difficult enough as it is, and reshuffling the O line could lead to mistakes.
How is Utah's defense prepared to stop running quarterbacks?
They've been a bit of a mixed bag this year stopping running quarterbacks. They largely held Taysom Hill of BYU in check other than a couple of bi plays that came as a result of the pass rush not maintaining their lanes. SJSU's quarterback was known for being mobile, and Utah effectively shut him down. I expect the Utes to focus on playing assignment football this week, with a linebacker (likely Cody Barton) acting as a spy on the Wildcat quarterback.
The good news for the Utes is that the strength of the team lies in the defensive line, who should go a long way to helping in this regard. Hunter Dimick is a high motor end that leads the conference in sacks. The Utes should also be getting all conference tackle Lowell Lotulelei back after he missed last week's Cal game. The big question mark is the linebackers - can they be in the right place at the right time? Other than the USC game, the linebackers have played well this season, and they will need to bring their A game if they want to slow Arizona's quarterbacks down.
What is your prediction for the game, including the score?
Both Utah and Arizona are about as banged up as a team can get, and in some ways it looks like a battle of attrition. I expect a close game, especially if the weather is bad. That said, Utah should win this game.
I expect the offense to try to grind out the clock and sustain drives - similar to what they were able to accomplish against Cal. However, I don't see Arizona being able to have the same quick strike ability that Cal did, where they beat the Utes on four long pass plays over the top. It'll be a back and forth game, but the Utes pull away late and win 27-23.