Tucson, Ariz. — After a horrendous start to their first season in the Pac-12 conference, the Utes are finally looking like they belong. They defeated Arizona tonight to give them two Pac-12 wins in a row and their first ever on the road.
There were many factors that contributed in their 34-21 win, but here are five factors that rose above the rest.
Composed from start to finish
In Utah’s better performances this season, they’ve been able to minimize their own mistakes while capitalizing on whatever the opposition serves them. In tonight’s game, Arizona made several mental errors that the Utes were quick to pounce on.
It was during the second quarter, as Utah built a 17-7 halftime lead, that saw them take advantage of Wildcat miscues in earnest. Numerous penalties by Arizona and a turnover deep in their own territory led to Utah building an early lead and they never looked back.
At the half, Arizona had 7 flags against them for 51 yards while Utah had a single penalty for 15 yards. This disparity continued throughout the game with Arizona being flagged 11 times for 96 yards to Utah’s five penalties for 54 yards which included a couple of penalties late after the game was decided.
The Utes also won the turnover battle 3-0, capping off the their take-aways was cornerback Conroy Black’s interception in the end zone with seven and a half minutes left in the game. The interception came immediately after Black was flagged for pass interference in the end zone giving Arizona a first and goal from the 2 yard line and only down 27-14.
Overall the Utes were out-gained 457 yards to 332 yards, but due to their lack of mental errors it didn’t cost them in cruising to a 34-21 victory.
Hays making them count
Embattled Ute starting quarterback Jon Hays has now put together two very good showings in a row. Against Arizona he threw only 21 times, but averaged 9.5 yards per pass completion and had two long touchdown passes.
Arizona has endured several injuries to their secondary and Hays was able to take full advantage in throwing a 65 yard touchdown pass to DeVonte Christopher to start the second quarter to build a 10-0 lead and then a 44 yard touchdown toss to Reggie Dunn to start the third quarter to put Utah up 27-14.
More importantly, however, Hays had nary a turnover which is huge when playing on the road. After a shaky start, the former Ute backup appears to be settling into his new starting role and the team is benefiting greatly as a result.
Special Teams It’s often the most overlooked aspect of any football game, but superior special teams play by the Utes contributed greatly in Saturday’s victory.
During the first series of the game they were able to read an Arizona fake field goal attempt, dropping the Wildcat kicker well short of the first down marker. They followed that up with two blocked punts in the first half, one of which gave them the ball on Arizona’s 21 yard line and led to the first score of the game on a Coleman Peterson 33-yard field goal.
The lack of mistakes and superior special teams play led to great field position for the Utes throughout the night. During the first half alone, Utah was able to start three of their drives on Arizona’s side of the field, directly leading to 17 of their 20 halftime points.
The field position battle was aided by some long gainers on punt and kick returns, specifically by Reggie Dunn who was able to take one of Arizona’s kickoffs from deep in the end zone clear out to the Utah 42 yard-line.
White Slippery through the hole
Nothing about John White’s physical makeup would suggest that he would do most of his work running the ball north and south, but that’s where he did his best work against the Wildcats. The 5 foot 8 inch, 186 pound White was able to not only slip through and past Wildcat defenders, but managed to even fall forward on most occasions.
On the night he ran the ball 27 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns. His most impressive play, however, may have been his block on a 250+ pound Arizona defender as he was bearing down on Hays, ready to record a sack and maybe even dislodge the football before the diminutive White de-cleated him.