Arizona will try to improve its bowl positioning tonight at Utah, while the Utes try to claw into the postseason picture.
The Cats, bowl-eligible at 6-4, have no guarantee of landing one of the spots in the Pac-12′s seven contracted postseason destinations. With a couple of losses to end the regular season, they likely will have to rely on landing a spot in another bowl, somewhere, that has an unexpected opening.
As for 4-6 Utah, if it doesn’t beat Arizona and Colorado, its season is over.
“The variables are cut way down; it’s just do or die,” coach Kyle Whittingham said in the Salt Lake Tribune. “But we’re still alive. If we don’t win, there goes the chance of bowl hopes. We’re fully focused, and we know the scenario.”
Utah’s desperation and motivation on Senior Night are definitely things that could impact the outcome when the teams kick off at 8 p.m. (ESPNU). Here are three others:
1. Utah running back John White IV
Slowed early this season by injury, White has had three consecutive 100-yard rushing games, including a season-high 142 yards last week at Washington. He ran 27 times for 109 yards and two scores last year against Arizona.
“He’s a very fast guy and shifty,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.
“I think he’s one of the best backs in the Pac-12. He’s extremely explosive. He’s not real big but he’s not small. He’s a strong runner and has great explosiveness. He’s a really great football player.”
Arizona is giving up 187.2 yards per game on the ground and is facing a big, physical Utah offensive line. The Utes’ first-stringers have a combined 97 career starts.
As UA linebacker Jake Fischer said this week: “We really expect Utah to come out and run the ball down our throat.”
Yes, White could have a huge night.
2. Utes QB Travis Wilson
The Utes have gone through three starting quarterbacks this season, settling on true freshman Travis Wilson, who will make his sixth start tonight. Wilson, who arrived on the Utes campus in the spring, took over for Jon Hays, who had taken over for the injured Jordan Wynn.
Wilson is 6-6, 230 pounds.
“I think he is their future,” Rodriguez said. “He is a big, athletic guy that has a good arm and can run. I think they see him as a guy that can be the face of their offense for the next three years.”
In that light, it’s interesting that quarterback recruit Brandon Cox de-committed from Arizona last month and pledged to Utah.
Anyway, while Wilson’s youth and inexperience seems to work in Arizona’s favor … not so fast. Young quarterbacks haven’t had trouble solving Arizona’s defense. Consider:
–Oklahoma State true freshman QB Wes Lunt completed 37 of 60 passes for 436 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions.
–Oregon redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota was 20 of 35 for 260 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
–UCLA redshirt freshman Brett Hundley was 23 of 28 for 288 yards, with three TDs and no interceptions.
3. Playing on the road
Arizona is 0-3 on the road this season, which Rodriguez chalks up to playing teams that simply have been better. He won’t change his process or anything else he does to prepare for road games.
The three teams Arizona has played on the road — Oregon, Stanford and UCLA — are all ranked and are a combined 16-1 at home. The Utes are 4-1 at home, losing only to USC.
“We will win on the road when we are better,” RichRod said.
Have to agree.
The Wildcats should have beaten Stanford, given their late lead, but a lot of teams would be 0-3 on the road vs. that schedule.
“I don’t think you can veer and change your game plan other than you have to prepare for crowd noise,” Rodriguez said of playing on the road.
“I think you just have to do what you do and have a lot of resiliency because you know you are going to have adversity. … In two games we have not handled it well and in one game I think we handled it well but just didn’t finish.”
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Other pregame reading:
If it’s Saturday, it must be a holiday for Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey
The most important Wildcat in the next two games? It might not be who you think.
Injury report: QB Matt Scott probable
The full list of how many player-games Arizona has lost due to injury.
Javier Morales with his Friday Fix: Games in Salt Lake City have been memorable
Greg Hansen’s Mr. Football column
Salt Lake Tribune: Unlikely pair has Utes’ punting spot-on
Deserert News: Utah must beat Arizona to keep bowl hopes alive