TUCSON, Ariz. — Home and away. Utah has now picked up Pac-12 victories in both places.
A week after defeating Oregon State at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utes added a 34-21 road win over Arizona. They're now 5-4 overall entering next week's home game against UCLA — topping the .500 mark for the first time since a 54-10 decision over BYU in the third game of the season.
"It was a nice win, good to get our first Pac-12 road win," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "It was nice that is was a team effort — offense, defense and special teams. We hit on all cylinders for the most part in all three phases."
Among the bright spots were three takeaways, no turnovers and stellar performances by several individuals.
On offense, quarterback Jon Hays completed 12-of-21 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns and John White IV ran for 109 yards on 27 carries while becoming just the 11th runner in Utah history to top 1,000 yards in a season.
Linebacker Matt Martinez led the defense with eight tackles and his second interception of the season. Cornerback Conroy Black also had a pick and safety Eric Rowe had a fumble recovery.
On special teams, senior Greg Bird blocked two punts and punter Sean Sellwood had a career-long 67-yard kick.
"We always know that special teams is a huge part in a win," Bird said. "We've got certain goals that we've got to hit, and I think we came together today and made that happen."
Arizona moved into the red zone on the game's opening possession. The drive, however, stalled. A delay of game penalty was followed by a fake field goal that ended with kicker John Bonano being hit for a 5-yard loss by Reggie Topps.
Although Utah failed to capitalize on the stop — punting after three plays — the Utes did cash in on their next special teams breakthrough. Bird blocked his first punt on the Wildcats' ensuing drive and the Utes wound up taking a 3-0 lead on a 32-yard field goal by Coleman Petersen.
Utah's defense then came up big on Arizona's next two series.
The first featured an 11-yard sack of Nick Foles by Topps on third-and-8 from the Ute 29, forcing a punt. Five plays later, Hays teamed with DeVonte Christopher on a 65-yard scoring strike. Petersen added the PAT to make it 10-0 early in the second quarter.
When the Wildcats got the ball back, Foles was picked off by linebacker Matt Martinez on the Arizona 30. Utah moved forward and eventually added to its lead with an 18-yard touchdown run by White. The Utes' lead swelled to 17-0 following the extra point.
An opportunity to increase it was wide right when Petersen's streak of 10 consecutive field goals made came to an end after an Arizona punt.
The Wildcats responded with their first score, off a 23-yard touchdown pass from Foles to David Douglas. A PAT from Bonano capped it off as Utah's lead was reduced to 17-7.
It proved to be short-lived, however, as Petersen connected on a 35-yard kick on the final play of the opening half to give the Utes a 13-point advantage at the break.
Utah led despite shortcomings in total yardage (215-190), first downs (14-9) and time of possession (18:02-11:58). The Utes were just 1-of-6 in third-down situations, while the Wildcats were 5-of-10.
By game's end, Arizona still had more yards (457-332) and first downs (28-20). Foles, one of the conference's highly touted quarterbacks, completed 25-of-43 passes for 326 yards.
"He's a very competitive guy. He's been here for three years, and at this point he knows what to expect. He can't do it all though," Douglas said. "Our offense has to help him out. He played well tonight, He just had a few plays that got away from him."
Utah opened the second half with better execution. The Utes marched 92 yards on seven plays, scoring on a 44-yard touchdown pass from Hays to Reggie Dunn.
Leading 27-7, Utah came oh-so-close to making it bigger a few minutes later. However, a 46-yard field goal attempt by Petersen bounced off the left goal post.
And, as was the case earlier, Arizona would up following the miss with a touchdown drive — culminating this one with a 42-yard throw from Foles to Douglas with 5:02 left to play in the third quarter.
Things nearly tightened even more midway through the fourth. Arizona had moved to the Utah 2-yard line before Black intercepted Foles in the end zone and returned it 57 yards to thwart the threat.
Whittingham said it was probably the biggest play of the game.
The Utes then took almost five minutes off the clock on a scoring drive that ended with an 11-yard touchdown run by White.
Arizona countered with a lengthy series of its own, but Daniel Jenkins' 29-yard touchdown run with 23 seconds remaining only made a cosmetic difference.
The loss dropped the Wildcats to 2-7 overall and 1-6 in the Pac-12.
"Utah played less man defense than we anticipated and mixed up their zone coverage and blitzes," said Arizona interim coach Tim Kish, who replaced the fired Mike Stoops last month. "And that kept us off balance a bit."
With the win, the Utes are now 2-4 in Pac-12 play. They conclude the regular season with games against UCLA and Colorado at home, as well as a road date at Washington State. Utah is one victory away from bowl eligibility and an almost certain ninth consecutive postseason appearance.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company