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Utah Utes vs. Arizona Wildcats Preview and Prediction


Arizona has had Utah's number over the past three seasons. Since Rich Rodriguez took over the Wildcat program before the 2012 season, the Utes have not beaten Arizona. Utah has struggled to find ways to even slow down the high-powered Arizona offense.

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Will this season offer a different scenario? It looks like a total mismatch on paper with an elite defense going against a porous one.

Utah has one of the best all-around defenses in the Pac-12. The Utes lead the league in interceptions gained and rushing defense. They are second in turnover margin and fumbles recovered. Utah also ranks third among Pac-12 teams in total defense, scoring defense, red-zone defense, sacks per game, tackles for loss per game and first downs allowed. Arizona, on the other hand, ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 in nearly all of the same defensive categories.

Utah leads the overall series with Arizona 20-18-2. The Wildcats have won three straight over the Utes, but have dropped two of their last three games against Utah in Tucson.

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Utah at Arizona

Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)

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Spread: Utah -6

Three Things to Watch

1. Fantastic Four

Great receivers always bring an explosive offensive scheme to life. It's one reason Arizona has been able to churn out yards and points in bunches in recent seasons. The Wildcats will test Utah's secondary with a group of wide receivers that includes four different players with more than 100 career catches and 1,000 career receiving yards. Leading the way is Cayleb Jones with 114 catches for 1,558 yards. Nate Phillips has 122 catches for 1,441 yards. Samajie Grant has 119 catches for 1,312 yards. David Richards joined the group after catching nine passes against USC last week. Richards now has caught 106 passes for 1,139 yards. The four receivers have also combined for 42 career touchdowns.

2. Changing Momentum

Gionni Paul is a major reason why Utah leads the Pac-12 or ranks second in the league in so many key turnover categories. Paul simply knows how to put himself in the right place at the right time to make plays. He leads the Utes in several major defensive categories a year after having his junior season cut short by injury. Paul has 84 tackles and 12 tackles for a loss — both team highs. The senior linebacker also has tallied a team-best six takeaways — three interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

3. Fourth-Quarter Heroes

Utah is a team that finishes strong. The Utes have outscored Pac-12 opponents 60-23 in the fourth quarter this season. Devontae Booker has been especially effective in the final 15 minutes of game time. Booker ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter against Arizona State. Then, against Washington, the senior ran for 69 yards to fuel both of Utah's scoring drives during the final quarter. Andy Phillips has also been effective in getting points for the Utes late in game. Seven of Phillips' 15 made field goals this season have come in the fourth quarter.

Final Analysis

There's no denying that Arizona typically gives Utah fits when the two teams play. The formula of past seasons probably won't work this time around. The Utes have a knack for dominating on defense and special teams and controlling the ball offensively this season. Arizona has allowed all but one Pac-12 team it has faced this season to score 31 or more points. That's not likely to change against Utah.

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Prediction: Utah 38, Arizona 21

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.