In an unexpected turn of events it was Utah's offense, not the defense, which led the charge to a win in Tucson. Utah's point output was its highest since week three and it's most complete offensive game since losing starting quarterback Jordan Wynn for the season. The improved play of the offense helps set the stage for a big showdown against UCLA in Salt Lake City this week as the new division leader hopes to keep their crown against a team currently on the rise.
It was a coming-out party of sorts yesterday for Utah quarterback Jon Hays. After struggling through his first four games as starter things finally seemed to click for the much-maligned junior. Hays threw for a career-high 199 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the day while also leading Utah on many additional scoring drives ending in field goals or missed field goals.
It wasn't just his turnover-free play that was encouraging, either. The game looked easier to him. He stayed in the pocket, trusted his receivers, and delivered the ball with confidence. He was never scared away from a throw because of coverage but instead took chances downfield and gave his receivers opportunities to make plays. While he was inside the pocket he didn't let pressure get to him or force him to run, he kept his composure while making his reads and made the best decisions possible. The few times he did escape to run came only after he had checked down to his second and third options and found nobody open.
Hays' progression has Utah fans energized. He may not be one of Norm Chow's famous Heisman Trophy quarterbacks, but if he can continue to play the way he did in Tucson he'll give the Utes a great shot to win their remaining games.
It was by no means a one-man-show against the Wildcats as Hays had tremendous help from Utah's stud running back John White. White put together what may have been his most complete game of the year against loaded Arizona fronts with as many as eight men in the box at times. Hays' ability to pass helped to ease the pressure against the run but it was clear Arizona's primary goal was to contain White. Despite this White still rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns averaging 4 yards per carry on his 27 attempts. White's fourth quarter touchdown, his second of the game, pushed Utah's lead to 34-14 and was the back-breaker for the Wildcats as they attempted to climb back into the game.
If Utah had a weakness on offense it was the wide receivers. The receivers made some great catches during the game but also dropped some very easy balls. Devonte Christopher's touchdown drop in the first quarter will be remembered by many but lucky for him it didn't come back to haunt the Utes. Dres Anderson, Christopher, and others had issues with drops that halted drives stalled the offense on multiple drives throughout the game.
Up front the Utah offensive line was fantastic. Hays had time to throw, White had room to run, and the Arizona defense was kept at bay for four quarters. The Wildcats were only able to manage one sack in four quarters against Utah's big uglies.
On the other side of the ball, it was Utah's defensive line that set the tone of the game. Utah's front four put heavy amounts of pressure on Arizona quarterback Nick Foles keeping him uncomfortable and often forcing him to throw on the move rather than from the pocket. Utah was able to get pressure on Foles with just four rushers allowing them to pick and choose blitzes from linebackers and corners while still dropping enough in coverage to make Foles' reads difficult. Utah got contributions from many different players on the line. Utah played nine different defensive linemen during the game and got production from all of them.
Arizona's offense was stopped six of seven times in the first half. The Wildcat drives ended turnover on downs (fake FG failed), turnover on downs, punt, interception, punt, touchdown, punt. That's arguably the best defensive effort Nick Foles and the Arizona offense has seen all season.
Similar to last week the Utah defense wasn't as strong in the second half and Utah's biggest defensive deficiencies appeared in the secondary. Foles wasn't pressured as heavily as he was in the first half and that resulted in big gains for the Wildcats. Foles hit on a particularly long touchdown pass late in the third quarter to pull Arizona within 13 and was able to finish with over 325 yards passing. Utah's corners are skilled but have been gashed his season on deep in-routes and dig routes. Saturday these problems were seen once again and the Utah safeties made multiple mistakes against play-action getting caught looking for the run allowing receivers to get behind them.
The linebackers and safeties weren't pushovers, though. Conroy Black's clutch goalline interception in the fourth quarter halted Arizona's last attempt at a comeback and all-but sealed the win for the Utes. The INT came after a questionable pass interference call on Black set Arizona up with first and goal from the Utah two yard line. On first down Foles went back to Black's side but underthrew the pass. Black quickly reacted to intercept the ball and returned it across midfield. Utah was able to convert the turnover into a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
Eric Rowe and Mo Lee need to be mentioned too. Both played very well against a talented, smart quarterback and group of receivers who know how to take advantage of young inexperienced defenders. They played hard and for the most part made plays when they needed to.
The win against the Wildcats puts Utah over .500 for the first time since late September. With just three games remaining the Utes now expect to make a bowl game for the ninth straight year and could potentially end the season with 8 wins, something that was in real question just two weeks ago. If Jon Hays can continue his progression at quarterback Utah should be competitive in every game remaining on the schedule starting with next week's showdown against Pac-12 South leader UCLA in Rice-Eccles Stadium. UCLA was all but written-off in the South just two weeks ago after losing in Tucson 48-12 but the Bruins have rebounded nicely with back-to-back wins over Cal and Arizona State. Weeks ago Utah's matchup with UCLA appeared to be a snoozer between reeling teams at the bottom of their division – now it could be one of Utah's biggest wins of the year. Such is life in the Pac-12.
Game Review - Utah at Arizona
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