The Utah Utes traveled to Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats in their first Pac-12 contest of the year. The Utes took a 13-10 lead at halftime, but lost starting quarterback Tyler Huntley to a shoulder injury. Backup Troy Williams came in to replace Huntley and showed why he is still very valuable to this team, accounting for 138 yards through the air and 15 yards on the ground with a touchdown. The Utes' defense put constant pressure on the Arizona quarterback, Brandon Dawkins, who turned the football over four times. A pick-six by freshman cornerback Javelin Guidry helped the Utes win 30-24 to start conference play.
Huntley's injury was a big blow to the offense. Even with the experienced Troy Williams coming into the ballgame in the second half, the offense scored one touchdown, one field goal and had to punt four times. The rushing attack managed over 100 yards, but the Utes are still looking for more fire in this department, and with Huntley out for whatever time, the running backs will have to take on this load. Devonta'e Henry-Cole could look to spark the rushing attack, as he rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries. Darren Carrington saw more focus on him as the Wildcats double-covered him on many occasions. However, when he was single covered, there were a few opportunities that he left on the field.
The defense was stellar with five takeaways on the evening and helped put points on the board with the pick-six. But the Arizona offense amassed 200 yards on the ground and 248 yards through the air. Arizona just could not get out of its own way with the turnovers, but when it did hold on to the ball, it was electric. The spread system for the Wildcats gave the Utes some trouble, and it did not help that Utah had trouble wrapping up its opponent. The injury to Kylie Fitts in this game is a scary reminder how quickly important players can get knocked out of the game. His leadership and play will be heavily missed if he is not good to go in two weeks.
Positively, Matt Gay continues to kick with confidence, making three field goals and three extra-point tries, and two special team holds on Arizona field goal attempts were the difference in the game. But the unit as a whole made some major mistakes in the game. First, the coach's son, Alex Whittingham, long snapped the ball right into a Ute player during a punt, and Utah turned the ball over right before halftime. In the fourth quarter, with Arizona down less than a touchdown, the Utes could not handle an on-side kick, and the Wildcats took over. Both mistakes did not cost the Utes in the end, but better teams will take advantage in the future if these miscues are not cleaned up. It was an uncharacteristic day for a usually solid crew.
Troy Taylor definitely modified the game for Troy Williams from the second quarter on. There were a few glimpses of explosive plays with passes down the field, but the running game was the focus, as well as short passes to keep the chains moving and the time of possession in the Utes' favor. Morgan Scalley seemed to dial-up the pressure early on the defensive side, but not near as much as the game progressed. The penalties still continue to plague the team, in this game accruing nine penalties of 83 yards. Sure, this offense is bound to make a mistake or two and the defense plays aggressive, so flags will come, but a multitude of flags usually points to an undisciplined team. Whittingham and the coaching staff have two weeks to figure it out before their Pac-12 home opener.
Starting Pac-12 play really showed the challenge the Utes will face this season, especially with Tyler Huntley possibly out with Stanford looming after their bye week. The coaching staff adapted with Troy Williams in the game, but the explosive plays never really materialized. Ultimately, the adversity does not matter to Kyle Whittingham, who said in the postgame, "You either win or lose. No excuses." The fact of the matter is that Utah won again and is 4-0 to start the season. Time to rest up before the Utes play the Cardinal.
Shane Reinhard is a graduate of Weber State University and a teacher and coach at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah. Email: [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @hoopsters12.