Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Arizona Secondary
Last week was bad Travis. That means that this week is good Travis, at least throwing the ball as Wilson continues to do damage on the ground and make the right decision on the read-option almost every time. Travis is under 200 yards per game passing at only 198, but his completion percentage is at 66%, which is what the coaches want more than anything. It remains the Kenneth Scott and Britain Covey show in the receiving game, but against a porous Arizona defense and secondary, guys like Tyron Smith and Raelon Singleton should be able to contribute. As it has been for much of the year for the Utah wide receivers, it's about getting separation. When they're open, Wilson hits them. If you remove the running back and tight end stats, Utah wide receivers are averaging a paltry 122.1 yards per game.
Arizona looks to have all of their defensive playmakers in the secondary, but haven't had much production or success in slowing down opposing teams. LB/S Will Parks will be playing the 'spur' and has a team leading 59 tackles, 7 pass breakups, and 4.5 tackles for loss. The kind of guy that is all over the field. Corner Davonte Neal is a great athlete with 49 tackles and an interception. Jamar Allah, Tellas Jones, and Jace Whitaker round out the group that has only 6 interceptions on the year and allows 276 yards per game.
Utah Running Back and Tight Ends vs Arizona Linebackers
Can we start making a case for Devontae Booker as the conference offensive player of the year? McCaffrey at Stanford will likely get it, but Book has gone for 150, 121, 62, 118, and 222 yards in his last five games.Throw in 10 TDs and 34 catches on the year, and you have the biggest offensive reason that Utah is 8-1. Harrison Handley has turned into a weapon with 9 catches and 2 touchdowns in his last 4 games.
Scooby Wright isn't the same Scooby Wright anymore. After winning pretty much every national defensive player of the award last year, the junior has played in only 2 games and almost certainly won't be out there on Saturday night. Instead you'll see the likes of DeAndre' Miller, Jake Matthews, and Paul Magloire, an undersized trio that has let teams run all over them this season as opponents are averaging 179 yards per game. Magloire leads the group with 45 tackles,with Matthews and Andrews pitching in 43 and 35 respectively.
Utah Offensive Line vs Arizona Defensive Line
Siaosi Aiono may try to snap it with his left hand this week if he's back in the lineup. That's a bad idea. If he can't go, Hiva Lutui will resume the center duties again. The Utah offensive line has been solid in pass protection again, while the run blocking still leaves a bit to be desired. The shuffle between Tevi and Barton is baffling at left tackle as Tevi has been far superior this season and really turned into a decent offensive lineman, but the coaches keep rotating. JJ Dielman has been a rock and no one is getting past him. Just waiting for this line to dominate the line of scrimmage for an entire game in both facets. If they do, Utah will be unstoppable.
An undersized Arizona front 3 shouldn't be much of a match for Utah's big offensive line. Sani Fuimaono is the anchor in the middle, but isn't a big guy at 6-1, 288 pounds with Reggie Gilbet and Luca Bruno as the defensive ends. They've combined for only 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, which wouldn't be bad numbers if they were setting up the linebackers to make plays, but neither group is doing so. As a team, Arizona has only 19 sacks.
Arizona Quarterback and Wide Receviers vs Utah Secondary
The Wildcats had been running out two QBs in Anu Solomon and Jerrard Randall over the past few weeks, but went with Solomon alone last week against USC and it almost produced an upset. The Utes will likely see Randall at some point in the game as a running threat as he has arguably the best wheels of any QB in the conference, but can't throw much. That's why Solomon is the starter. He's a true dual-threat, but hasn't been using his legs as much this season as last in putting up only 100 total yards on the ground. He'll make his bones through the air, throwing for 229 yards per game with 16 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The sophomore did have 352 yards last week against USC. Solomon has 5 receiving targets that he finds preferable with Johnny Johnson, Cayleb Jones, Samajie Grant, David Richard, and Nate Phillips all hauling in 27+ passes. Jones and Richards are both over 6-3 and 210 pounds, while the other three are more in the speedster role. Utah will have their hands full with arguably the deepest group of receivers in the conference.
Opposing offenses just aren't doing much against the Utah secondary these days unless it's a big play brought on by an assignment mistake. Dominique Hatfield looks like a 1st team all conference corner with 3 interceptions and generally the assignment of locking down the opposing team's best receiver. Reggie Porter has a team leading 7 pass breakups, and Justin Thomas has 2 interceptions and 4 pass breakups. Don't forget about Cor Butler-Byrd and his 2 picks, along with improving play each week. Safety Marcus Williams had a tough week last week, but still leads the team with 4 interceptions, doing a lot of work on his own with Utah playing their other safety up in the box. Tevin Carter will likely resume his starting role with Chase Hansen now out for the year. You could see a scenario where all of the secondary starters outside of Carter are all conference award honorees. That'll happen when you're unit has 11 interceptions and is allowing opponents to complete only 56% of their passes.
Edge: Arizona (barely)
Arizona Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
Utah fans remember Nick Wilson. He's the guy that crushed their Pac 12 South title hopes in 2014 with 218 yards (the third straight time that an Arizona back has gone over 200 against Utah) and 3 touchdowns on the ground last year in Arizona's 42-10 win. Wilson has missed a few games this season due to injury (including the last two), but is still averaging 98.7 yards per game. If Wilson plays this week, he's the kind of back that can be the difference between a win and a loss. If Wilson can't go, Jared baker will get the call, but he's averaged only 51 yards per game in the last three contest, mostly as the starter. The Wildcats are putting up 244 yards per game as a group though. Tight end Josh Kern isn't much of a threat with only 7 catches on the year.
Just give Gionni Paul the Pac 12 defensive player of the year award now. Blake Martinez and Kenny Clark are fine candidates, but no one has had the impact that Paul has, especially in making the big game changing play known as the turnover. Put him next to Jared Norris, who has killing guys last week, and you have the best duo in the conference, if not the country. They have a combined 151 tackles, 15.5 for loss, 4 sacks, 3 interceptions, 4 forced fumbles, and 3 fumble recoveries. Opposing teams are rushing for only 114 yards per game, mostly because of these guys.
Arizona Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
The Arizona offensive line isn't exactly what you'd call stellar. Outside of left guard Freddie Tagaloa, they're a little light in the shorts with a bunch of guys under the 300 pound mark, and left tackle Layth Friekh and center Cayman Bundgae well under that. There is a significant lack of experience for a group that has given up 22 sacks on the year. Utah's defensive line should be able to eat these guys up.
The Utah defensive line keeps doing their thing. The quarterback pressure is still hit and miss, but it's not like quarterbacks and running backs are lighting up the Utes right now. The issues with quarterback scrambles still seem to be a problem, and with the dual-threat QBs Arizona has on their roster, that will be something the Utes need to slow down. Utah hasn't been bad against mobile QBs, but the 3rd down pickups on the ground have been a concern. Kylie Fitts has been tremendous in his time as a starter in slowing both the run and the pass. He might be the most instinctive player on Utah's defensive line. The Utes could get Filipo Mokofisi back this week to help with an interior that has looked great, especially with the emergence of Stevie Tu'ikolovatu.
Utah continues to struggle with their short kick-offs, and it's only a matter of time before another team breaks one for a touchdown. Phillips needs to be putting those deeper. Fortunately he continues to be solid in the field goal game going 15 of 19 with a long of 53. Tom Hackett remains the Ray Guy frontrunner with an average of 46.9 yards per punt and 18 of them inside the 20. It's been a few weeks since we've seen anything in the return game for Utah. Britain Covey is averaging 13.1 yards per return with 1 TD to go along with 22 yards per kickoff return.
Nate Phillips is averaging 19.1 yards per punt return this season with 1 touchdown on only 5 attempts. He's also averaging 19.5 yards per return on kickoffs with Tyrell Johnson averaging 25.3 yards per return. Casey Skowron has been a solid kicker on the year making 11 of 14 kicks with a long of 48. Punter Drew Riggleman is avergaing a very respectable 44.4 yards per punt. The Wildcats cover both punt and kick returns well and are yet to give up a TD in either area.