The Arizona Wildcats are facing a must-win game this week as they welcome the no. 7 Utah Utes to the desert. This game will kick off at 10:00 EST on Saturday, November 23 at Arizona Stadium in Tucson. Fans can watch the game on FS1.
According to the Week 13 college football odds, the Utes are favored by 22 points on the road. There is also an over/under for the game set at 58.5 points.
As mentioned, Kevin Sumlin and the Wildcats are in a must-win situation if they hope to play in a bowl game this year. Last week’s 34-6 loss at the hands of Oregon was Arizona’s fifth loss in a row. At one point, the Wildcats were 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play. However, things have taken a turn for the worse with five straight losses all by double-digit margins.
Arizona now needs to beat both Utah and rival Arizona State to become bowl eligible. Sumlin is only in his second season, so it’s unlikely that he’ll be fired so quickly. On the other hand, after going 5-7 and missing a bowl game last year, losing seven in a row to end the season could be enough to cost Sumlin his job, so it’s imperative that the Wildcats win at least one of their remaining games.
On the other end of the spectrum, Utah is inching closer to returning to the Pac-12 Championship Game for the second straight year. They have also put together a good resume for the College Football Playoff. The Utes blew away UCLA 49-3 last week for their sixth consecutive win, making them 9-1 overall and 6-1 in conference play.
Of course, Utah has no margin for error at the end of the season. A second loss this season would be enough to take them out of the CFP conversation. The Utes would also lose their spot in the Pac-12 title game if they lose to either Arizona this week or Colorado next week and USC beats UCLA. In that sense, this is also a must-win game for Utah.
These two teams have split their eight head-to-head meetings since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011. However, the Utes have beaten the Wildcats in three straight seasons, including a convincing 42-10 in Salt Lake City last year.
It would take a minor miracle for Arizona to win this game. Even at home, I don’t have much faith in the Wildcats to keep this game close. Four of Utah’s six Pac-12 wins this season have come by at least 25 points, so there’s no doubt they’re capable of winning by a wide margin. At the same time, the Wildcats have failed to keep up with the top-tier teams in the conference. In short, the math dictates that I lay down the points and take Utah to cover.
For Utah, the key to winning by wide margins this year has been on defense. The Utes have as much talent along the defensive line as any team in the country, and it’s shown this season. Only USC and Washington have managed to score more than 17 points against Utah. More importantly, four of their last five opponents have been held to seven points or less.
To be it another way, an Arizona offense that’s been frustrating to watch will be facing a defense that’s akin to a brick wall this week. At times, the two-quarterback system with Khalil Tate and Grant Gunnell has had a little success. However, the Wildcats were stopped in their tracks last week against an Oregon defense that’s good but not as talented as Utah’s defense. I don’t expect Arizona to generate much of a ground attack against the Utah defensive front. It’s also unlikely that Gunnell, a freshman quarterback who’s more of a pocket passer than Tate, will be able to take advantage of a Utah secondary that has been vulnerable against quality quarterbacks.
Of course, the Utes also have the kind of offense that can cover large spreads. Quarterback Tyler Huntley has been unbelievably effective this season. He’s nearing a career-high in passing yards while also completing 74% of his passes with 13 touchdown passes and just one interception. Huntley hasn’t even needed to use his legs to propel the Utah offense. Senior running back Zack Moss has been more than enough, gaining over six yards per carry this season and rushing for at least 99 yards in five straight games.
More importantly, the Arizona defense remains an absolute mess. The Wildcats fired defensive coordinator Marcel Yates three games into their five-game losing streak, only to give up 90 points over their last two games. Sumlin has no answers on that side of the ball. The Wildcats are giving up close to 45 points per game during their five-game losing streak.
Unless the Wildcats turn things around 180 degrees from their performances over the last month, they have no chance in this game. Given Arizona’s struggles on both sides of the ball and Utah’s ability to dominate on both sides, this game has blowout written all over it. I have a lot of confidence that the Utes will win by at least four touchdowns and cover the spread against Arizona.