|No. 23 Utah wary of Arizona's running attack|
TUCSON, Ariz. -- No. 23 Utah will open its Pac-12 slate with a road game Friday night against Arizona, a team that has not been kind to Utah in recent seasons.
The Utes (3-0) snapped a four-game skid to the Wildcats last season with a 36-23 victory in Salt Lake City. Coach Kyle Whittingham cites the running game of Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez as being problematic.
"They run the zone read as well as anyone in the country," Whittingham said of the Wildcats. "They have a quarterback that is an exceptional runner. That is exactly what they look for in their quarterback, the ability to be a dual threat. We have struggled with them.
"The games we lost, we did not do a good job defending the run. So, that is going to be job No. 1 this week like it is every week."
Friday's game -- kicking off at 10:30 p.m. ET at Arizona Stadium in Tucson -- will match strength against strength.
Arizona (2-1) has a deep group of running backs -- led by Nick Wilson and J.J. Taylor -- and sits atop the conference rushing leaders, averaging 328 yards per game. Utah, with standout defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei in the middle of its defensive line, is allowing only 49.3 rushing yards per game, second nationally behind Duke.
Arizona quarterback Brandon Dawkins, who struggled passing the ball in a week 2 home loss to Houston, bounced back in a 63-16 win at UTEP last week. He rushed for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries, also throwing for three scores.
Dawkins, a redshirt junior, received plenty of criticism from Arizona fans for his performance against Houston. Rodriguez noted Dawkins' more serious demeanor in the week leading up to last week's game.
"He probably heard a lot of the stuff last week," Rodriguez said. "He's more competitive than he lets on, because he has a happy-go-lucky type of personality. ... During the whole week, during the warmups and even during the game he had kind of a focus like, 'I'm going to prove myself all over again.'"
Both quarterbacks will be in the spotlight.
Utah's Tyler Huntley is coming off a four-touchdown performance against San Jose State. Huntley, a sophomore who wrested the starting away from incumbent Troy Williams in fall camp, has looked good as a dual threat in the Utah's new more up-tempo scheme implemented by coordinator Troy Taylor, who was hired from Eastern Washington after last season to spice up the attack.
Huntley has completed 80 of 111 passes for 868 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He's also the team-leading rusher with 212 yards and three scores.
"He is a tremendous athlete for starters," Whittingham said.
"He has a great arm; he is accurate; he is well coached. Troy Taylor has done a great job of presenting the new offense to him and getting him where he needs to be as far as his reads, progressions and where he is going with the ball. He is a good decision-maker.
"I know he has a couple throws that he wishes he could have back this year, but like I said over 70 percent completion, if we can keep that trend, we are going to have a very successful year."
Zach Moss leads the Utah running backs with 192 yards on 44 carries. Helping Huntley has been the addition of Oregon graduate transfer receiver Darren Carrington, who has 26 catches for 409 yards and four scores. Carrington has reached 100 yards receiving in every game this season.
"He's a grown man that's got great size and ball skills," Rodriguez said. "The safeties can help a little
bit, but there's inevitably in this day and age, times where people get spread out and your corners have to make plays when they're one on one. We've got to challenge our guys to be able to do that." Neither team played a game against a Power Five program in the nonconference season, so moving into conference play means a rise in the level of talent on both sides.
"Well, the level of competition certainly goes up, we are aware of that," Whittingham said.
"You play the games as they are scheduled and we have done what we are supposed to do in the first three, but I don't think there are a lot of teams in the country that know a whole lot about themselves still. ... This will definitely be our stiffest test of the year."