Utah football: Utes desperate to beat Arizona, get bowl-eligible
The schemes might be intricate and defensive assignments might be vague, but one thing is glaringly obvious for the Utah Utes as they take on the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday.
Their season, full of meltdowns and letdowns, all rides on the outcome against the Wildcats. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
With a win, Utah's hopes of being bowl-eligible remain alive. With a loss, the Utes (4-6, 2-5) face their worst season in more than 10 years. Not only would it mark the first time the Utes aren't bowl-eligible since 2002, but it would also be the bitter cap on a season gone awry.
Remember when the Utes were picked to finish second in the Pac-12 South? It's hard to conjure up that hopeful time now with Utah on the brink of postseason elimination.
This wasn't the position the Utes thought they would be in.
"It's weird to have to fight to get to bowl eligibility. It's a different experience," receiver DeVonte Christopher said.
Back in the Mountain West Conference, the Utes grew accustomed to easily qualifying for bowl games, even in their down years.
However, life in the Pac-12 is much different, as Utah coach Kyle Whittingham reiterated this past week, noting the days of regular nine- and 10-win seasons are probably a thing of the past.
A team that used to fight to break into the BCS is now fighting to just play another game past the regular season.
"The variables are cut way down; it's just do or die," Whittingham said. "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."
Despite the difficulties the Utes now face in the Pac-12, they welcome the challenge and will give the Wildcats their best shot, corner Reggie Topps said.
"I love the competition," Topps said. "We're not scared of competition. This is how this team was born and raised."
The Utes had similar thoughts before their 34-15 loss at Washington, but chances of getting a win in Seattle were dashed when Utah's passing game managed just 55 yards and the defense couldn't slow Washington's balanced attack.
Utah faces a similar offense in the Wildcats, who average 37.9 points a game. Whittingham gushed over first-year coach Rich Rodriguez's schemes, which are simple but effective.
"We are going to have our hands full," he said. "It's a very balanced offense, and that is what you need to be effective."
But with so much riding on the outcome of this game, the contest could be about which team has more emotion, rather than X's and O's. The Utes promise to win that battle.
"We know the situation, we know we have to win the next two to be bowl-eligible," Christopher said. "We've got a lot of work to do, but we'll definitely be looking for Arizona this Saturday."
Arizona at Utah
P At Rice-Eccles Stadium
Kickoff • 8 p.m.
TV • ESPNU
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 4-6, 2-5; Arizona 6-4, 3-4
Series history • Utah leads 20-15-2
Last meeting • Utah 34, Arizona 21 (Nov. 5, 2011)
About the Utes • The Utes are 4-1 at home this season. â¦ Backup running back Kelvin York, who has missed the last two games, is doubtful for the matchup due to an ankle sprain. â¦ Twenty-five seniors will be honored before kickoff. â¦ Tickets remain on sale for the game. â¦ The Utes are 3-5 in night games this year.
About the Wildcats • Quarterback Matt Scott, who missed last week's win over Colorado due to a concussion, is probable for this game. â¦ Austin Hill leads the Wildcats averaging 6.2 catches and 102.3 yards a game. â¦ The Wildcats are 7-10 against Utah in Salt Lake City. â¦ Rich Rodriguez is in his first year as the Wildcats' coach.