TUCSON – In its final road trip of the regular season, Utah dominated the Arizona Wildcats as a quiet fell upon the desert in a 35 – 7 win to sweep the Arizona schools on the season.
Utah’s (10 – 1 , 7-1) defense held Arizona (4-7, 2-6) to only 196 total yards of offense in the loss and had a shutout until the Wildcats claimed a late-game touchdown against Utah’s backups. But Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said he was more concerned about preserving the health of his players instead of the shutout.
“It’s good to get those reps rather than worry about preserving a shutout and maybe losing a starter – that doesn’t make sense in that situation, ”Whittingham said. “You can’t get too hung up on statistics and that type of thing; you’ve just got to do what you need to do to think long term and big picture. ”
Utah won the battle in the desert in all facets of the game. The Wildcats were only allowed a total time of possession of 20 minutes on the night, including only 8 minutes in the first half.
“That’s a good football team we played,” Arizona head coach Kevin Sumlin said. “We couldn’t get anything going offensively.”
The Wildcats held the Utes to only two touchdowns in the first half after Utah failed to convert a touchdown inside the red zone as time expired. Utah used nearly five minutes of time on the drive, but senior running back Zack Moss was stopped at the half yard line as Utah battled with a winding clock.
Moss gashed the opposing defense and rushed for 203 yards and one touchdown on 26 carries in three quarters of play. The all-time leading rusher at Utah had 136 rushing yards at the half, but escaped for a 41 – yard off the edge. He rushed down the sideline for his only score of the game to put more space on the Wildcats to start the third quarter.
Hitting 657 rushing attempts in his Saturday night performance, Moss broke the 1, 000 – yard rushing mark for the third consecutive season, and the school’s all-time rushing attempt record of 648 attempts set by Tony Lindsay in 1980. The senior running back also recorded his fourth consecutive 100 – yard rushing game, which makes it 18 career games rushing over 100 yards.
Utah opened up the game with a drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock. The 75 – yard drive was capped off with a Brant Kuithe 3 -yard rushing touchdown on a jet sweep play-call to give the Utes the early lead. Utah found the end zone on its next drive of the first quarter when Tyler Huntley completed a 3-yard bubble screen pass to Demari Simpkins for his first receiving touchdown of the season.
Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley finished the night throwing for 211 yards and one touchdown on 19 – of – 23 passing. Huntley also threw his second interception of the season on a 23 – yard pass to the end zone that was picked off by Arizona’s Lorenzo Burns; Whittingham said the throw was not on his quarterback but the receiver running the wrong route.
“The one interception was a route structure issue; it was not a bad throw, ”Whittingham said. “It was a misread by receiver and put the ball right where it should have been, but the route was not where it should have been. Tyler was nearly flawless, again. ”
The Wildcats switched between two quarterback on the night – freshman Grant Gunnell and senior Khalil Tate, but neither could get much going against Utah’s defense all night. The two combined for 32 yards on 4-of – 10 passing in the first half, with much of their production coming on a 20 – yard passing play to receiver Boobie Curry. The pair combined for 135 yards on 14 – of – 27 passing in the game, with Gunnell having the slightly better night with 96 passing yards.
Utah lost starting wide receiver Bryan Thompson to an apparent knee injury in the first half. The wideout limped off the field with the help of the team’s training staff and did not return to the game. Whittingham said Thompson’s status is unclear and the team will know more Sunday.
The Utes remain the only team in the Pac – 12 likely in contention for the College Football Playoff after Oregon dropped a game on the road to Arizona State. But Whittingham said he’s not concerned in what other teams do as his focus is only on closing out the season with a win against Colorado next week.
“Don’t care; it doesn’t matter. We got our hands full with Colorado. We’re going to try to figure out how to make a first down next week, that’s our objective. Whatever else is happening is none of our business and of no concern of ours. ”
“ We’ve just got to continue to win out, and that’s going to take care of itself, ”Huntley added .
Utah returns to action next Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the final game of the regular season. The game time and broadcasting partner have not been set and will be announced Sunday.