Here are three things to watch in the Arizona Wildcats’ game vs. Utah at Arizona Stadium (Friday, 7:30 p.m., FS1), plus a score prediction and some pertinent preview links:
1. QB BATTLE
This ought to be fun. Both teams have dynamic quarterbacks who can make plays with their arms and legs. Each is his team’s leading rusher. What’s the biggest difference between Utah’s Tyler Huntley and Arizona’s Brandon Dawkins? It could be accuracy. Huntley has completed 72.1 percent of his passes. Even in limited time last year, he hit on 5 of 7 (71.4 percent). Dawkins is sitting at a career-high 66.7 percent thanks to last week’s personal-best 18-of-21 performance at UTEP. The question is whether he can do that again, or something close to it, against a superior opponent. Entering the UTEP game, Dawkins had a career completion rate of 54.2 percent. His misfires against Houston the previous week are still fresh in UA fans’ memories. The Miners rarely pressured Dawkins or forced him to make tight-window throws. The Utes will do both. They also at times will put Dawkins in must-pass, long-yardage situations. Which brings us to item No. 2 …
2. RUSH WEEK
The Pac-12’s best rushing offense (Arizona) meets its best rushing defense (Utah). Something’s gotta give! The Wildcats’ ground game has been nothing short of dominant in three of its past four games. The one time they weren’t, against Houston, the Cats lost. Arizona managed a respectable 152 rushing yards in that game. Would that be enough to beat Utah? I’m not sure; it would depend on a lot of other factors. We do know this: As I detailed earlier in the week, Arizona’s success on the ground, or lack thereof, has been one of the determining factors in most recent meetings. Last year’s was no different, although some of the final numbers were flat-out fluky. The Wildcats managed just 127 rushing yards that week. In every other game besides the opener against BYU (115), they had at least 158. Meanwhile, Arizona passed for 348 yards – 113 more than in any other contest. It’s worth noting that neither Nick Wilson nor J.J. Taylor played against Utah last year. Both are available tonight.
3. COVERING CARRINGTON
Who would have guessed two months ago that Huntley and Darren Carrington II would lead Utah’s prolific pass offense? Huntley wasn’t supposed to start; Carrington wasn’t even in Salt Lake City. After running into off-the-field troubles at Oregon, which dismissed him from the program, Carrington transferred to Utah in late July. He has been ridiculously productive, accumulating 26 catches, 409 yards and four touchdowns in three games. Arizona’s secondary hasn’t been tested the way it will be tonight. The NAU and UTEP games were blowouts; Houston, meanwhile, shifted to an ultra-conservative game plan while nursing a second-half lead. Utah’s usual lineup features four wide receivers. Interestingly, all are listed at 6-foot-2 or taller. This could be a game where Dane Cruikshank’s cornerback experience comes in handy. Cruikshank, who’s bigger than any UA corner at 6-1, 206, has made a seamless transition to safety, where he has excelled as a box defender. He’ll be called on to cover more against that four-wide look. Arizona has to throw everything it has at Carrington and his mates.
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 24, Utah 23