With two weeks remaining, there are still five teams that can win the Pac-12 South Championship and earn the right to play the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Two of those teams square-off in what will be a chilly, and probably wet Salt Lake City when the No. 15 Arizona Wildcats take on the No. 17 Utah Utes. The game kicks off at 3:30 P.M. eastern time on ESPN.
Arizona is coming off of a dramatic last-second win over Washington, while Utah needed two overtimes to get by Stanford.
All of the different Pac-12 South title scenarios are perplexing, but these two teams postseason hopes are contingent on the same thing – they both need to win out. There is a lot on the line at Rice-Eccles Stadium knowing that whoever loses will likely miss out on a Pac 12 Championship berth.
The Arizona passing game has faltered a bit the past few weeks, but redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon is still third in the conference in passing yards with 3,058. He hasn’t had a lot of help from his receivers either. All of a sudden, the Wildcat wideouts have caught a case of the dropsies, and it’s been contagious. Even Cayleb Jones, who leads all Arizona receivers with 788 yards this year, has not been immune to the drops. Possible snow this weekend can’t really help that problem much for Arizona.
On the Utah side, the Utes’ passing game has been brutal all year. They currently sit 97th in the country, and 11th in the Pac-12 in passing yards this season. Quarterback Travis Wilson is a tough guy, coming back this year after several concussions suffered last season, but he has been ineffective as a passer. Backup QB Kendal Thompson had been doing a good job coming on in relief, but he suffered a season-ending injury against Oregon two weeks ago.
This game is going to come down to the ground attack. Arizona will primarily use true freshman Nick Wilson, who has put up five 100-yard rushing efforts this year, including each of the last two games. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby has been banged up throughout the season, and could be an option to come into the game, but expect to see a large dose of Wilson. Utah’s Devontae Booker has been a workhorse all year. Booker sits third in the Pac-12 with 1,113 rushing yards this year. Utah should have the advantage in the rushing game thanks to Arizona’s small defensive line.
Utah has stud Nate Orchard patrolling their defensive front. Orchard leads the country in sacks, and is fourth in tackles for loss. Arizona’s Scooby Wright III leads the nation in TFLs, so the game could come down to how effective those two guys are at getting into the backfield, and disrupting the other team’s rushing attack.
Arizona’s depth at receiver should allow them to throw short passes to the outside in the cold and wet weather to avoid Nate Orchard. As long as the Wildcats can hang on to those short throws from Solomon, they could make some big plays and rack up the yards after catch. Travis Wilson hasn’t proven this year that he can do that. Advantage Arizona.
This should be a relatively low-scoring contest, somewhere in the low 20s probably. I would expect Arizona to come away with a win in a close game, just as they have done all year long. All the players want next week’s Territorial Cup showdown with Arizona State to have division title implications, so there’s a little extra motivation to fight through the conditions in Salt Lake City and return to Tucson with that little bit of life in the Pac-12 race.
*Section Photo credit to Gene Sweeney Jr., Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Scott Olmos, USA Today Sports