This had the potential to be a trap game.
Utah came into the game ranked No. 7 in the nation, and was merely two wins away from clinching a spot in the Pac-12 championship game. With next week's "rivalry" game against Colorado looming, it would've come as no surprise if the Utes were caught looking ahead.
Throw in the fact this game was down in Tucson, Arizona, a notoriously difficult place to play in November, and this game had all the makings of a #Pac12AfterDark special.
Somebody for got tell Utah, though.
As typical fashion when you're the No. 7 team in the country playing an inferior opponent, you handle business and that's exactly what the Utes did. Behind star running back Zack Moss and tight end Brant Kuithe's two rushing touchdowns, Utah steamrolled Arizona 35-7 to keep its CFP hopes alive.
“Never take winning for granted,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Don’t get bored with winning.”
Even by Utah's standards, it was a pedestrian first half in which the Utes were held to just 14 points. While they were controlling the game, they were unable to put points on the board, which is why the first possession of the second half was important, according to Moss.
“Come out and dominate. We felt like they were hanging around a little bit too much,” Moss said. “The score was only 14-0 but we were doing a lot of good things on offense. We just wanted to come out and put some points on the board. So that’s what we did.”
Moss finished the game with 203 rushing yards and a score on 26 carries, while Kuithe added 81 yards on four catches and two touchdowns on two rushes.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley was equally as effective, finishing 19-of-23 for 211 yards and a touchdown with one interception. The pick was a rarity for Huntley this season, but according to Whittingham, was the product of the wrong route being run.
“The one interception was a route structure issue; it was not a bad throw,” Whittingham said. “It was a misread by receiver and put the ball right where it should have been, but the route was not where it should have been. Tyler was nearly flawless, again.”
With the offense taking care of business, the defense continued to thrive as one of the best in the country.
The game plan was to make Arizona one-dimensional and that's exactly what the Utes did. They held the Wildcats to 196 yards of total offense, 61 on the ground and 135 through the air.
“Every game we try to make every team one-dimensional and then not a lot of teams can beat us,” said Utah linebacker Francis Bernard, who led the defense with eight tackles. “When we take one thing away they have to resort to something they’re not comfortable with and it’s not that hard after that.”
Arizona's only score came in the final two minutes of the game, after the outcome had been decided. But Whittingham, instead of looking to preserve the shutout with his starters, elected to pull them to prevent injury or something worse.
“It's good to get those reps rather than worry about preserving a shutout and maybe losing a starter. ... That doesn't make sense in that situation,” Whittingham said. “You can't get too hung up on statistics and that type of thing; you've just got to do what you need to do to think long term and big picture.”
Utah now turns its attention to Colorado with so much on the line; a trip to the Pac-12 championship and a hopeful berth in the CFP.
“That’s a good football team we played. We couldn’t get anything going offensively,” said Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin. “In the first half we held them to 14 points and had a couple of fourth-down stops we needed to get. It all works hand in hand with an experienced team, quarterback, and the amazing running back they have.”