Utah 34 Arizona 21: UA flat, then flattened

Utes' special teams, defensive pressure drop Arizona to 2-7
2011-11-06T00:00:00Z 2014-09-15T10:22:16Z Utah 34 Arizona 21: UA flat, then flattenedRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
November 06, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Keola Antolin received Saturday's opening kickoff, ran toward the sideline and - with a dash to his left and a quick flip of his hand - the trick play was on.

Antolin pitched to Garic Wharton, and the Arizona Wildcats' fastest player found a seam, lowered his head and appeared headed for a sure touchdown.

Then, with 65 yards of open field ahead of him, Wharton slipped and fell.

The Wildcats stayed on the turf for three hours.

Utah blocked a punt, deflected another, stuffed a fake field goal attempt and intercepted Arizona in the end zone on the way to a 34-21 win at Arizona Stadium. With the loss, the UA (2-7 overall, 1-6 Pac-12) was eliminated from any possibility of postseason play. The Wildcats must win two of their three remaining games to finish with more victories than the 2004 and 2005 squads, both of which went 3-8.

"It's a tough situation for these guys to be in," said UA interim coach Tim Kish, who is 1-2 since replacing Mike Stoops on Oct. 10. "They're going to be down because we've eliminated ourselves from any postseason activity right now. We'll pick ourselves up and try to find a way to get positive going into next week."

On Saturday, though, silver linings - and most of the announced crowd of 50,839 - were gone by halftime.

Utah's first-ever win over the UA as a member of the Pac-12 was notable in how little they needed to do to win. The Utes (5-4, 2-4) gained 332 yards total yards of offense, but 109 of them came on long touchdowns. DeVonte Christopher turned a short pass from Jon Hays into a 65-yard catch-and-run in the second quarter to make it 10-0. With the Utes leading 20-7 just after halftime, Hays found Reggie Dunn for a 44-yard score.

That both scores came against defensive backs who were thrust onto the field because of injuries was of little consolation. Jourdon Grandon, a redshirt freshman starting his first game at cornerback, slipped and fell on Christopher's score; former walk-on Lyle Brown was turned around - and torched - on Dunn's play.

"I probably didn't do a good job as a coordinator, giving them some help," Kish said.

Staked to a multiple-score lead, the Utes mixed up their coverages to confuse Nick Foles.

It worked: the Wildcats' quarterback played one of the worst games of his UA career, completing 25 of 43 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. He was intercepted twice and sacked twice by a Utes front that entered the game as the second-best unit in the conference.

"They're a good team. They played well," Foles said. "I thought we played awful."

Yet, surprisingly, the Wildcats were still in the game, trailing 27-14, and driving with 7 minutes 29 seconds remaining. Foles attempted to throw a fade route to Gino Crump in the end zone, but left it short. Utah's Conroy Black intercepted the pass and returned it 57 yards. Seven plays later, John White made it 34-14 with an 11-yard run.

But it wasn't Utah's run-based offense or its stingy defense that made the difference Saturday. Think special teams.

"Sometimes we dominate in that area," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, "and tonight, we dominated."

Greg Bird blocked a UA punt in the first half, Coleman Petersen hit field goals from 33 and 35 yards and Utah stuffed a fake field goal when the Wildcats tried to get cute at the end of their first drive.

The resulting short fields made it easy. Utah's average field position was its own 43-yard line. Arizona started, on average, at its own 18.

"I never underestimate a team, but we felt we had a good chance going out there," said linebacker Tra'Mayne Bondurant, who led the UA with eight tackles. "We thought we played good, but there were mistakes we couldn't control. I'm not going to take anything away from them. I respect them."

The Wildcats were short-handed on both sides of the ball.

Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and defensive end C.J. Parish were held out of Saturday's game because of ankle injuries, and Dan Buckner - who separated his shoulder against Washington a week ago - was limited to just one catch for 9 yards. Tailback Ka'Deem Carey was suspended for the first half for an unspecified violation of team rules.

With the starters out, the Wildcats were forced to rely on second-stringers and role players. David Douglas caught 10 passes for a game-high 156 yards and two touchdowns, while Daniel Jenkins - Arizona's fourth-string tailback - rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown.

Kish now has a decision to make: Stick with his starters at the end of a lost season, or spread the ball to a young, motivated group of backups. Regardless of what he does, the interim coach can't afford to lose his team.

Jenkins, for one, thinks his team will stay engaged.

"Like Coach Kish was saying in the locker room, we don't have a whole lot to play for," Jenkins said. "We have to play for our seniors, we have to play for our upper-classmen. We can't just throw it away and just quit. We have to keep grinding away, and we have to set the tone for the future."

Up next

• What: Arizona at Colorado

• When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday

• TV: Fox College Sports (check cable listings for availability)

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

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