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The Daily Wildcat


Behind Enemy Lines: Utah defense, run game pivotal in Saturday showdown with Arizona football

Tyler Baker
Arizona cornerback DaVonte’ Neal (19) drags down a Utah receiver at Arizona Stadium on Nov. 14, 2015.

The Arizona Wildcats football team will take on the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City on Saturday night. The Daily Wildcat spoke with Daily Utah Chronicle sports editor Kim Brenneisen to get a deeper look into the Utes and the challenge they will pose for Arizona.

DW: Utah has had some great success the past couple years, yet has not been able to get a hold on how to beat Arizona. Why?

KB: For one reason or another, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has never been able to bet Rich Rodriguez while he has coached Arizona.

The Utes haven’t blocked the run game as well as they would like, and that’s one thing that has worked to Arizona’s favor in the past. Arizona is also a team that can score in big chunks.

While Utah’s defense can typically do a decent job of stalling teams or preventing the opposing team from scoring as much as it typically does, the offense has a hard time matching what the opposing team brings to the field.

RELATED: Arizona football looks to fend off vengeful No. 24 Utah for first Pac-12 win

What has been the key for Utah on both sides of the ball?

After a disappointing first game, the offensive line has turned it around, and it’s because of the offensive line’s play that the run game has been successful.

The starting running back at the beginning of the season, Joe Williams, didn’t have great ball security in the first two games, and his name dropped off the depth chart in the third week of the season. Williams then retired from football two days later.

However, the backup running backs have stepped up. Armand Shyne will be starting on Saturday for the first time. Zack Moss had the previous two starts, and the two of them will probably have a similar amount of carries.

For the defense, Chase Hansen has been a versatile player. He is able to put pressure on the quarterback when necessary, and he has caused a few turnovers.

What has been the team’s response to the goal line defeat at California?

That loss was hard on the team, but the Utes also understand they can’t keep digging themselves a hole.

In back-to-back games, they have gone down by 14 points, and it isn’t going to get any easier. It seems like they are ready to bounce back; Whittingham’s teams tend to perform well following a close loss.

Who or what should Arizona be concerned with this weekend?

Going back to the offensive line and the run game—if Arizona can put a stop to that, it will take a lot of momentum from Utah’s side. Also, the Utes use the run game to eat up a lot of the clock. So again, the run game should be of concern.

If Arizona wins at Utah, especially considering the year it is having, what does that mean for coach Kyle Whittingham?

I don’t know that this particular loss has any effect on Whittingham. Honestly, I think it just means once again, he can’t beat Rodriguez.

It will have an effect on Whittingham in a sense that he’s going to have to demand a lot more from his players.

There has yet to be one game this season where all of Utah’s units are playing up to standard, and Whittingham has not shied away from replacing people if the situation warrants it.

RELATED: Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A  on Arizona football with Daily Bruin reporter Matt Cummings

How many wins do you expect Utah to have this season? What is your prediction for the game?

I expect Utah to go 9-3 this season, but I say that with a lot of hesitancy. There were a lot of high hopes for this season, but there are a lot of unresolved issues that won’t seem to go away.

Injuries (although Whittingham will tell you that’s a “loser’s game”) have taken a toll on the team. The Utes lost their starting center, J.J. Dielman, for the season, and the transition to the backup wasn’t great against Cal. That being said, I still see them winning nine games this season, but that number, of course, falls short of where they would have liked to finish.

Saturday’s game will be close—too close for comfort—but I think Utah pulls out a 31-28 win.

Follow Saul Bookman on Twitter.

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