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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

No. 19 Arizona football vs. No. 16 Utah preview: The Wildcats set to host another ranked foe

Arizona+football+quarterback+Noah+Fifita+%2811%29+prepares+to+throw+the+ball+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.+30.+The+Wildcats+lost+the+game+24-31.
Kohichiro Yamada
Arizona football quarterback Noah Fifita (11) prepares to throw the ball on Saturday, Sept. 30. The Wildcats lost the game 24-31.

The No. 19 Arizona football team (7-3, 5-2 in Pac-12) will play host to the No. 16 University of Utah (7-3, 4-3 in Pac-12) on Saturday, Nov. 18, at 12:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. For the first time this season, the Wildcats will be playing in a battle of two ranked opponents. Arizona’s close-call win over the University of Colorado Boulder moved the Wildcats up three spots, while the Utes’ close loss to the No. 5 University of Washington only had them tumbling down three spots.

The Wildcats will look to stay on a roll, as they haven’t lost in over a month (Saturday, Oct. 7, at then-No. 9 USC).

History

Arizona has a 19-25-2 record all-time against Utah in a series that’s lasted for over 100 years – the first matchup was in October 1924. The Wildcats didn’t win until the sixth matchup in 1942 which ended 14-0. Arizona is riding a six-game losing streak against the Utes where three games were played in each host city of Tucson and Salt Lake City.

Arizona has been able to find success against Utah historically, though. Arizona won eight straight between 1973 and 2002, highlighted by a 38-0 shutout win in Tucson on Sept. 10, 1983. The Wildcats also won four straight from 2012 to 2015.

Utah tends to find its success against Arizona in streaks. The Utes’ six-game win streak over the Wildcats includes a crushing 35-7 game in Tucson in 2019, and Utah held Arizona to just a single win and two ties in their first 12 meetings. 

Utah’s season

Quarterback Cameron Rising entered the season with a lot of buzz; if 2023 played out like his 2022 campaign, he could have solidified his early-round NFL draft prospect status. Things quickly came tumbling down for the Utes, though, as his recovery from a knee injury in the 2022 Rose Bowl was more serious than initially believed.

Ultimately, Rising was ruled out for the season and the Utes turned to backup signal callers Nate Johnson and Bryson Barnes. In the two-quarterback system, Barnes emerged as the better passing threat, and Johnson’s role as the dual-threat option was reduced heavily with the emergence of two-way starter Sione Vaki as a strong safety and running back.

Despite the shaky quarterback situation, the Utes started the season strong with two back-to-back wins over reputable non-conference foes at the University of Florida and Baylor University. The Utes scored 20+ points in both matchups while holding both opponents to under 14 points. They capped off the non-conference slate with a 31-7 drumming of in-state Football Championship Subdivision-level Weber State University.

However, the Utes have failed to fully prove themselves in Pac-12 play. Despite wins over then-No. 22 UCLA and then-No. 18 USC, hindsight makes them less impressive than they were at the time. Since then, both UCLA and USC have fallen out of the AP Poll and are four-loss teams. Utah’s three losses came against then-No. 19 Oregon State University, the then-No. 8 University of Oregon and most recently against the No. 5 University of Washington. Oregon State has since jumped up to No. 10 and Oregon has held down the No. 6 spot in the AP Poll for multiple weeks now. 

The Utes are coming off a loss to Washington where they fell apart on the last drive of the game and couldn’t force overtime despite having the ball with 1:32 remaining in the game. Barnes threw an interception on a must-have fourth down with 10 yards to go that sealed the game for the Huskies.

Wildcats to watch

Defensive back Martell Irby has been seeing snaps in a hybrid defensive back-linebacker role in the increasingly popular dime package that Arizona has been rolling out on defense with six defensive backs on the field. Irby’s versatility will likely see him matched up with Vaki, who has notched a game each with over 100 receiving yards and 100 rushing yards. With Utah’s increasing reliance on Vaki as a Swiss army knife type of player, Irby’s ability to keep him in check will be the linchpin to how the Utes run their offense.

Sophomore cornerback Ephesians Prysock continues to grow and make strides in his development. The 6-foot-4 former four-star safety prospect has blossomed into a reliable presence opposite Treydan Stukes and boasts an NFL-caliber frame and potential. He hauled in his first career interception in the game against then-No. 19 Washington State University, and notched a career-high seven solo tackles in the matchup against Colorado on Saturday, Nov. 11. He will likely be tasked with covering the 6-foot-5 Devaughn Vele, who leads Utah in receiving yards.

Quarterback Noah Fifita is coming off his worst game as a starter, posting season-lows in yardage, completion percentage, completions, passer rating and quarterback rating. That said, he still posted over 200 passing yards to pair with two touchdowns and completed 60% of his passes. Fifita is poised for positive regression back to the mean, so his passing yardage and completion numbers should jump back up with an important win on the line.


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