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Utah vs. Arizona Football Prediction and Preview

Utah vs. Arizona Football Prediction and Preview

Utah vs. Arizona Prediction and Preview

Utah's path back to the Pac-12 Championship Game and potentially a shot at the College Football Playoff became much clearer in Week 12 when the Utes decimated UCLA, 49-3. The thorough deconstruction of a previously red-hot Bruins bunch leaves just two games between Utah (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) and the divisional title, both against the South's two last-place teams.

Since starting 4-1, Arizona has hit a woeful downturn marked with inconsistent offense and porous defense. The Wildcats (4-6, 2-5) return home to Arizona Stadium for the final time in 2019 one week removed from facing the Pac-12's other playoff hopeful, Oregon, in a game UA lost by four touchdowns.

The circumstances on Saturday night are similar to 2015, however, when a struggling Arizona team stunned a top-10 Utah team with designs on a Pac-12 title. Can history repeat? Does Khalil Tate have one last magical run in him on his Senior Night? Are we in for the classic Pac-12 After Dark upheaval?

Utah at Arizona

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 10 p.m. ET


Spread: Oregon -22.5

When Arizona Has the Ball

Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin was splitting reps between quarterbacks Tate and Grant Gunnell for weeks before last Saturday's trip to Oregon, but the freshman Gunnell made his first start since Tate was unavailable against UCLA in September. The switch in starters didn't translate to a change in strategy, as both still played about equally. When in the lineup, Tate ran with a vigor he hasn't had since injuring his hamstring Sept. 14 against Texas Tech.

That could be an item to watch, as Tate has never played at full strength against the Utes. Of course, Arizona hasn't seen a defensive line like Utah's. Few teams have, which is why opponents often struggle with the Utes.

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The only team to find much offensive success against Utah this season was USC, largely the result of NFL-caliber wide receivers making spectacular grabs on deep prayers thrown by Matt Fink. Arizona's young receiving corps has been a work in progress, so finding similar success against Julian Blackmon and Co. in the secondary seems unlikely. Likewise, an injury-depleted Wildcats offensive line will struggle mightily to contain Bradlee Anae, John Penisini, Leki Fotu and the rest of the Utah front.

When Utah Has the Ball

The Heisman Trophy campaign for Tyler Huntley is picking up steam. Utah's dual-threat quarterback is playing impeccably, completing 74.2 percent of his pass attempts at an eye-popping 11.5 yards per attempt. He's thrown 13 touchdowns and been intercepted just once. Add five rushing touchdowns, and Huntley is putting together a solid case for an invitation to New York.

It's no coincidence that the Utes' only loss came in a game with multiple red-zone failures, after running back Zack Moss went down with an injury. Moss has returned since that USC contest to pound opposing defenses to the tune of 6.2 yards per carry and 106.1 per game. He has 13 rushing touchdowns, setting the pace in a multifaceted approach from offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig that has also utilized Jaylen Dixon, Demari Simpkins, and Derrick Vickers as ball-carrying threats.

Arizona's defensive woes in 2019 are well-documented, resulting in the midseason firing of coordinator Marcel Yates. Among the Wildcats' difficulties has been containing big pass-catchers — and it just so happens that Huntley's top two targets, wide receiver Bryan Thompson and tight end Brant Kuithe, both stand 6-2.

Final Analysis

Utah is playing the best football in the Pac-12, and this edition of the Utes looks to be the best team of Kyle Whittingham's tenure. That includes the 2008 squad that ran the table and beat Nick Saban's Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

The difference between Utah then and the Utes now is how much more consistently dangerous the offense is. Ludwig coordinated both offenses, but the 2008 verison was limited. Huntley is playing the best of any Utes quarterback since Alex Smith in 2004, and the addition of a typically hard-charging running back in Moss gives this team equal parts sizzle and steak.

The defense is your standard Whittingham defense, physical and aggressive, with the added benefit of being the most collectively experienced of his tenure. Against an Arizona team that's playing arguably the worst of any team in the Pac-12 coming into Week 13, this is a huge mismatch.

Prediction: Utah 41, Arizona 17

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.