Stopping the Arizona (2-1) run game has been a challenge for the University of Utah football team (3-0) in years past. So when the two squads meet on Friday, Sept. 22 in Tucson, that will be a vital part of what the Utes need to do in order to start Pac-12 play on the right foot.
The Utes head into the matchup ranked No. 2 nationally in rushing defense with an average of 49.3 yards per game, but the Wildcats are ranked No. 6 in the nation in rushing offense with 328 yards per game, meaning one or the other is bound to give way when the two teams meet on the turf.
“We have struggled with them. We beat them the first year and the last year and lost four in between,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “It all stems from the games we lost, we did not do a good job defending the run. That’s going to be job one this week, just like it is every week.”
Utah wrapped up its nonconference schedule with wins coming against all three opponents, North Dakota, BYU and San Jose State. To open the season, a new Utah offense was unveiled as well as a new starting quarterback took the field. Over the course of those three games, Tyler Huntley showed why he earned the starting role over senior Troy Williams, who was at the helm of the offense for all 13 games last season. As the team’s leading rusher, averaging 70.7 yards per game, Huntley has showcased his ability to move his feet and make plays — but that’s not all he has exposed.
Huntley’s arm has found Darren Carrington II to be his favorite receiver. With one 200-yard and two 300-yard passing games from Huntley, Carrington leads the team with 26 receptions for 409 yards and four touchdowns.
“I feel like we got a pretty good feel for each other going into the first game,” Huntley said. “He’s an amazing player. He catches everything that comes his way, and I love having him on the field with me.”
As for the Wildcats, they found success against North Arizona and UTEP, but they were shut down against Houston. Quarterback Brandon Dawkins is similar to Huntley in the fact that they are both dual-threat quarterbacks who can take advantage of opportunities to run the ball. Dawkins leads his team with 251 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
While this contest is expected to be more of a battle between Arizona’s run game and Utah’s rushing defense, it’s the defensive ends that Whittingham believes will endure the most stress against the Wildcats.
Whittingham pointed out that defensive end Bradlee Anae, who had three tackles and forced and recovered a fumble against the Spartans, is doing a solid job in his first year starting at right end. He said Anae’s motor is high, he has speed and uses his hands — all things Utah will need to see from him again come Friday night.
Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. MT.