by Scott Funk (@scottfunk0)
Salt Lake City – It will be a classic best defense vs best offense matchup this Friday night when the Utes (3-0,0-0) open up Pac-12 play down in Tucson to take on the Arizona Wildcats (2-1,0-0).
The Utes go into this game with the best rush-defense in the Pac-12, giving up 49.3 rush yards per game through their first three games of the season. The Wildcats are averaging a Pac-12 best 328 rushing yards per game throughout their first three games.
“It’s a great matchup,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “Our run defense against their rush offense. There as good as anyone in the country at running the ball, and that includes the academies. That’s how good they are. That will be the biggest matchup and the most critical to the outcome of the game; their run game against our run defense.”
Players to Watch For
Utah – Front seven, Tyler Huntley
The front seven for the Utes have been huge so far this season. They have completely shut-down the run game of every competition that they’ve faced this year. For the Utes to win this week that must continue. The Utes have yet to face a power-five team in their 2017 campaign, so the level of difficulty significantly increases this week when they take on their first Pac-12 opponent in Arizona. The defensive line is stacked with experience and skill at the front via seniors Kylie Fitts, Filipo Mokofisi and Lowell Lotulelei along with sophomore Bradlee Anae, who coach Kyle Whititngham said had the best game of his career last week against San Jose State.
“We’re focuses on their read-option game,” said Fitts. “We know their quarterback is good, their skill positions are good, their o-line looks good. We are just focussed on trying to stop the run. We know that if we can stop the run we can shut their whole game down.”
Last week Tyler Huntley continued to put up career high numbers by throwing for 341 yards and four TDs. Huntley is first Utah QB to throw back-to-back 300-yard passing games since Brian Johnson did it back in 2008. Huntley is also the leading rusher for the Utes with 70.7 yards per game game, and a team-high three TDs. This week he faces an Arizona team that ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in passing defense, giving up 267.7 passing yards per game and seventh overall in the Pac-12 for total defense giving up 387.7 yards per game.
Arizona – Offensive line, Brandon Dawkins
The other side of the battle-of-the-bests is Arizona’s offensive line. They will lead the way for the rush attack for the Wildcats. The line consists of three seniors, a junior and a sophomore at the center position. They’ll have their biggest test of the year going up against Utah’s front seven.
In a rare case, this will be a matchup where both teams leading rushers, also happen to be the QBs. Brandon Dawkins has carried the ball 34 times this year for 251 yards, and five TDs. He has also thrown for 422 yards and four TDs. In his last game against UTEP, Dawkins ran for 133 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. He will lead the Wildcats and their potent rush attack this week when they take on the Utes.
“They run the zone read as well as anyone in the country,” said Whittingham.”They have a quarterback who is an exceptional runner and thats is exactly what they look for in a quarterback, is the ability to be a a dual threat.”
Arizona has not been kind to the Utes since they joined the Pac-12 back in 2011. Since then, the Utes are 2-4 against the Wildcats, with their 36-23 win last year snapping a four-year skid in the series. Overall the Utes are 21-19-2 in the series, with the last victory also being coach Whittingham’s 100th victory of his head coaching career.
It will be a classic heavyweight fight at the line. The question becomes: which side will break first?
Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. MDT at Arizona Stadium. The game will be televised on FS1 and can be heard on ESPN700.
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