The strength of the Utah Utes for the past several seasons has been their rushing defense.
Well, it’s been a strength against everyone except Arizona.
The No. 15 Arizona Wildcats (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) left sunny Tucson for the wet and cold city of Salt Lake City. They returned to the sunshine with a 42-10 victory after another dominant performance by Nick Wilson. He became the third straight running back to run for over 200 yards against the Utes.
The last two seasons, it was Ka’Deem Carey that achieved the feat.
Wilson put up 218 yards on Saturday afternoon on 20 carries, and found the endzone three times. The highlight reel run was a 75-yard run that broke the game open for Arizona early in the fourth quarter, putting the Wildcats up 28-10 at the time.
It was all Arizona for almost the entire first half, as the Wildcats jumped out to a 21-0 lead behind Anu Solomon’s first-career rushing touchdown, the first of Nick Wilson’s scores, and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by senior defensive end Dan Pettinato. The Utes went three-and-out on five of their first six drives.
But as the clock was winding down in the second quarter, Travis Wilson led Utah down the field on an eight-play, 75-yard drive, resulting in a receiving touchdown by tight end Westlee Tonga.
That score gave Utah the momentum as it received the ball first in the second half. A field goal brought the Utes within eleven, but that would be the closest they would get.
Arizona had to play the second half without starting quarterback Anu Solomon after the redshirt freshman re-aggravated an ankle injury on the ‘Cats final drive of the first half. Backup quarterback Jesse Scroggins came into the game, and promptly fumbled two of his first few snaps, but settled down after his miscues.
It all came down to Nick Wilson. The 75-yard run brought the freshman up to 199 yards for the day. After a Jared Tevis interception off Travis Wilson, Nick Wilson ran the very next play 19-yards to the house for his third and final touchdown of the game.
Arizona capped off the game with a Tra’Mayne Bondurant pick-six. Bondurant also forced a fumble earlier in the game, and led the team with ten tackles.
The Wildcats finished the day with 298 rushing yards as a team, which was even more impressive considering they were playing the second half without their starting quarterback against one of the Pac-12’s best rushing defenses.
Utah (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) had already been eliminated from the Pac-12 South title race with Arizona State’s win earlier in the day. Arizona is still in the hunt after UCLA defeated USC. The Wildcats close the season at home on Friday when the Sun Devils come to Tucson for the Territorial Cup. It will mark the first time both teams will enter with at least nine wins since 1975.
*Section Photo credit to Christian Petersen, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Russ Isabella, USA Today Sports.