No. 24 Utah heads into this weekend with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 South if it can defeat host Arizona on Saturday afternoon in Tucson, Ariz.
The Utes (6-3, 5-1 Pac-12) have a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona State. The race will be over if the Sun Devils lose at Washington and Utah takes care of business against the Wildcats (1-8, 1-5), who unburdened themselves of a 20-game losing streak by eking past Cal 10-3 on Saturday.
Utah is surging after a 1-2 start, thoroughly dominating Stanford in its last game, winning 52-7 while rushing for 441 yards. The result prompted Utah to be voted into the College Football Playoff rankings this week.
The Utes had three 100-yard rushers for the first time in program history, led by Tavion Thomas, who has rushed for four touchdowns in each of the past two games.
Thomas rushed just 21 times in the first four games but now leads a powerful rushing attack with 122 carries for 742 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got quickness and pretty much everything you are looking for in a running back,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
“Early on, the ball security wasn’t where it needed to be and by no means did we ever consider giving up on him. We knew that we needed to continue bringing him along and get him to the point where everybody felt confidence in him carrying the football and that he was going to protect it.”
While the Utes will try to control the game on the ground — they rank 16th nationally at 219.0 yards per game — quarterback Cameron Rising also has been a steady force, avoiding the big mistake. He has completed 129 of 203 passes for 1,458 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Arizona is feeling good entering its home finale after beating a Cal team depleted by COVID-19 safety protocols.
“I told our team, ‘So what; now what?” coach Jedd Fisch said. “It’s over at this point. We have signs all over our building — so what now?”
Will Plummer, the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster, left the Cal game with shoulder and hand injuries, but he kept returning and led a late touchdown drive for the winning points. He is expected to play against Utah, although wide receiver Jamarye Joiner and running back Michael Wiley figure to continue to take direct snaps to mix things up.
Utah has won the past three meetings dating to 2016. The teams did not play last season.
Whittingham is 140-69 in 18 years at Utah, needing one more victory to tie Ike Armstrong for the most wins in school history. Armstrong was 141-55-15 in 25 seasons (1925 to 1949).
–Field Level Media