The Utah Utes took a major step backward in the eyes of coach Kyle Whittingham with their 34-15 loss to Washington in Seattle Saturday. To beat Arizona and keep their hopes of becoming bowl-eligible alive, they’ll have to take a major leap forward in the coming days.
The Utes (4-6, 2-5 Pac-12), who managed just four first downs in the second half and only 188 yards of total offense in the loss to the Huskies (6-4, 4-3), face an Arizona team that blistered Colorado 56-31 Saturday and is averaging 37.9 points a game.
The Wildcats have one of the worst defenses in the country, too, and are giving up 34.6 points a game, but after the defeat to the Huskies the last thing the Utes want to do is get into a shootout with the Wildcats (6-4, 3-4).
Freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was just 8-for-23 for 55 yards and an interception Saturday and was sacked four times. Under almost constant pressure, Wilson didn’t get much help from his receivers, who were covered well and had several drops on catchable balls.
Running back John White had 142 yards rushing, but the Utes managed only 46 yards elsewhere.
“Our throw game was abysmal,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We dropped too many balls, just never got in sync with throwing the football. We’ve got to be more balanced offensively.”
Utah’s defense never could clamp down on Washington quarterback Keith Price, who was 24-for-33 for 277 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked three times, but consistently came up with the big plays his team needed, particularly on third downs, where the Huskies were 7-of-15 on conversions.
Utah could face an even bigger quarterback challenge against Arizona. Wildcats senior quarterback Matt Scott leads the Pac-12 in total offense, averaging 357.4 yards, and has thrown for 2,848 yards and 20 touchdowns.
He sat out the Colorado game with a concussion but was hardly missed.
Junior B.J. Denker handled struggling Colorado well in his absence, going 12-for-14 for 136 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Ka’Deem Carey ran for a Pac-12 record 366 yards and five touchdowns on 25 carries.
Carey, a 5-foot-10, 203-pound sophomore, is averaging 138.1 yards a game.
Utah’s defense allowed Washington back Bishop Sankey to rush for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries, but the lack of offense continues to be Utah’s primary concern.
The second half of Saturday’s game was a study in futility for the Utes as Wilson completed just two passes, and Utah couldn’t convert any of its six third-down attempts and managed just 69 yards.
Whittingham said the Utes have to go “back to the drawing boards” to get ready for Arizona.
“We’ve got to coach better, that’s always a starting point, coaching, and doing a better job of getting the guys ready, better job scheming,” he said. “But we’ve also got to do a better job of making more plays during the course of the game.”
Utah’s offense struggled Saturday. Here is how the Utes did in each half.
Total offense 26-119 27-69
Rushing 12 for 87 18 for 45
Cmp-Att-Yds 6-for-14-32 2-for-9-23
Third-downs 1-for-7 0-for-6
First downs 5 4
Arizona at Utah
P Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • ESPNU