Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Keys to Utah's visit to Arizona are obvious
By Ted Miller
Sometimes things are so obvious, they practically smack you in the face.
So we have ... ouch ... Utah.
Toss aside the Utes' win over FCS Montana State and a highly competitive loss at USC. In Utah's' three other Pac-12 defeats, it lost the turnover battle 14-1. In its wins over BYU and Pittsburgh, it won the turnover battle 11-3.
And in Utah's first-ever Pac-12 victory -- 27-8 over Oregon State last weekend -- it won the turnover battle 3-0.
In its wins over BYU and Pittsburgh, Utah won the turnover battle 11-3.
Ouch! Stop that! We get it.
The Utes do a lot better when they protect the football. It helps, too, when their opponents do not.
"You don't have a chance against quality football teams if you're minus-three, minus-four or minus-five in the turnover ratio," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "You can't compete when you do that."
What beating the Beavers did do is show that the Utes can compete in the Pac-12 when they're not going all Pig-Pen. And an underrated benefit of getting rid of the bagel in the "conference record" column ends a distracting line of questioning.
"I think it was a big lift," Whittingham said. "We needed it. It took far longer to get our first Pac-12 win than we had hoped it would. But we finally got it."
The Utes visit Arizona on Saturday. The Wildcats had a different experience with Oregon State. Their 37-27 loss to the Beavers dropped them to 0-4 in conference play and was followed two days later by the firing of coach Mike Stoops. Since then, however, Arizona has played better football, blowing out UCLA and losing a back-and-forth struggle at Washington.
"Even with the loss last Saturday, they have been 60-minute, gutty performances," interim coach Tim Kish said. "If we do that the remainder of the season, we'll be happy at the end of the day."
Both programs would like to string together a handful of pleasant weekends, but the Utes have a lot more to play for. A win in Tucson would put presently 4-4 Utah just one win away from bowl-eligibility with three to play, including a home-finale against ARCH-Pac-12-RIVAL Colorado, which remains winless in conference play.
Good news for the Utes: The Wildcats have forced only 10 turnovers this year, which ranks 10th in the conference.
Further good news, the Wildcats have struggled to stop the run, also ranking 10th in the conference in run defense (174 yards per game).
And protecting the football, running the ball, solid special teams and relying on its defense is how Utah wins. The only way, in fact, it can win because its passing offense ranks last in the Pac-12 and 100th in the nation.
"I don't know if that's how we'd like to play, but that's the blue print for what we think is best right now," Whittingham said.
The matchup of note is Wildcats QB Nick Foles versus a rugged Utes defense that's No. 1 or 2 in the conference in most major statistical categories, most notably for this matchup in pass efficiency defense and sacks (23). While the Wildcats rushed for 254 yards against the befuddled Bruins, they reverted back to their run game anemia at Washington, gaining just 36 yards on the ground. The Utes run defense ranks 11th in the nation (91 yards per game).
So this one feels ... ouch! Pretty obvious, too.
The team that gets a second conference W is going to be the winner of the Foles vs. the Utes pass defense showdown.
Oh, and the turnover battle will figure in there as well.