Arizona Football

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Arizona Wildcats and Utah Utes




[ezcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]

Five off-the-beaten-path storylines of Arizona vs. Utah while wondering how many times it will be mentioned during the ESPN telecast tomorrow that Arizona from arid Tucson is out of its element in cold Salt Lake City …

1. Mind over matter.

The same ESPN crew (Mark Jones and Rod Gilmore) that called last week’s upset of Oregon State over Arizona State in chilly Corvallis, Ore., no doubt will bring up the fact another Arizona school is forced to win in frigid conditions.

Saturday’s forecast in Salt Lake City calls for 90 percent chance of rain with the high temperature of 48 degrees. The low temperature today in Tucson will be 42 with a high of 72 on Saturday.

Like anything else while playing the brutal sport of football, it’s all in the mind.

What Jones and Gilmore won’t tell you, because ESPN might not do the research, is Arizona defeated Utah in snowy conditions in one of the five of the greatest games played between the former WAC rivals.

Arizona defeated Utah 16-15 in Salt Lake City in the snow in 1968 after it trailed 15-0 entering the fourth quarter. Backup quarterback Bruce Lee (not the famed martial-arts actor) threw two touchdown passes and sophomore place-kicker Steve Hurley made a 27-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to give Arizona the win.

Tucson Daily Citizen sports reporter Dave Spriggs wrote this account: “With approximately four minutes remaining, a group of children put the finishing touches on a ‘Go Utah’ message written in the snow at the south end of the stadium. At about the same time Arizona’s Frank Jenkins, suffering from numbness in his legs, brought on from standing in ankle deep slush on the sidelines, separated Utah’s Ray Groth from the football and Tom Cooley recovered for the Cats (setting up one of Lee’s touchdown passes).”


[ezcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]

[table “” not found /]

Arizona needs a win at Utah and UCLA to beat visiting USC Saturday to remain alive in the Pac-12 South standings another week.


This is a Tucson Daily Citizen picture of Arizona's 16-15 win over Utah in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16, 1968. The caption refers to former UA reserve quarterback Bruce Lee, who engineered a fourth-quarter comeback in a heavy snowfall

This is a Tucson Daily Citizen picture of Arizona’s 16-15 win over Utah in Salt Lake City on Nov. 16, 1968. The caption refers to former Arizona reserve quarterback Bruce Lee, who engineered a fourth-quarter comeback in a heavy snowfall

[ezcol_1half id=”” class=”” style=””]

2. It’s November 22nd and Arizona is still in the race?

The Wildcats had only one or two conference losses entering this late in the season (on Nov. 22) only four times before — in 1985, 1986, 1993 and 1998 — all seasons that rank among the best in program history.

Arizona had a combined record of 39-9-1 in those seasons. The Wildcats were 3-0-1 in bowl games to conclude those seasons, including wins over North Carolina (Aloha Bowl after the 1986 regular season), Miami (Fiesta Bowl after 1993) and Nebraska (Holiday Bowl after 1998). The 1985 team tied Georgia in the Sun Bowl.

Even more remarkable is Arizona went 7-1-1 on Nov. 22 and after in those seasons and did not go to the Rose Bowl. Four of those seven wins were against ASU, a clean sweep outscoring the Sun Devils 134-92.


[ezcol_1half_end id=”” class=”” style=””]


3. Injuries taking their toll on Utah.

First NFL receiver prospect Dres Anderson (knee), then dangerous running quarterback Kendal Thompson (leg) … Now former Miami linebacker Gionni Paul, a potential game-breaker on Utah’s defense, is lost for the season with a foot injury.

Three important players gone with Paul being the most significant.

Utah’s conservative run-first offense was not utilizing Anderson’s skills on the perimeter. He had only 355 receiving yards and four touchdowns and was second on the team with 22 receptions when his injury was announced Oct. 29.

Thompson, a transfer from Oklahoma, tried but could not wrestle the quarterback job from junior Travis Wilson. After a promising performance in a win at UCLA, Thompson struggled at Oregon State the following week. Wilson replaced him in that game and started against USC and ASU.

After Wilson could not get the job done at ASU, Thompson started again against Oregon. He suffered his season-ending leg injury in that game.

After missing the first two games following a broken foot in spring practice, Paul recorded four interceptions and 61 tackles, four for lost yardage. He was Utah’s second-leading tackler, sparking the defense with his enthusiastic personality.

“I feel bad for these kids,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after the Oregon game, when receiver Tim Patrick also went down with a season-ending injury. “They lay it on the line. They lay their bodies on the line every week. There’s going to be some serious injuries that occur.”

4. Arizona vs. Utah, a contrast in offenses.

Utah has a throwback offense instead of one that throws the ball forward a lot.

Devontae Booker, a 1,113-yard rusher, dictates the tempo for Utah’s offense, not Wilson. Look for more of the same with sloppy conditions at Eccles-Rice Stadium tomorrow. Furthermore, Arizona’s defense has struggled against the run, ranking 105th nationally allowing 206.2 yards per game.

Utah has played conservatively although spread-offense-minded Dave Christensen, the former Wyoming head coach, was hired by Whittingham this season to take over as offensive coordinator. That move relegated former ASU head coach and Utes co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson to running backs coach.

Utah ranks No. 11 in the Pac-12 and No. 98 nationally in passing yards per game (189.9). Arizona ranks No. 3 in the conference and No. 14 in the nation averaging 306.7 yards.

Wilson and Thompson have combined for only 277 attempts, completing a respectable 63 percent (167), for 1,899 yards.

Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon almost has as many completions (245) as Utah has as attempts. Solomon has completed 58 percent of his 441 attempts for 3,058 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Solomon became the fifth Arizona quarterback to join the 3,000-yard club in the win over Washington last week. He joined Nick Foles, Matt Scott, Willie Tuitama and Jason Johnson.

5. Who has the better leg?

Utah punter Tom Hackett and Arizona’s Drew Riggleman are two of the top 10 punters in the nation, and the game might come down to which of the two is most efficient.

Hackett, an All-Pac-12 punter last year, leads the nation in punts inside the 10-yard line (18) and is tied for second in punts inside the 20-yard line (29). He is third in punt average (46.8).

Riggleman is sixth nationally with an average of 45.7. His rugby style of kicking on occasion prevents returns, which will be critical in this game with Utah’s Kaelin Clay leading the nation averaging 19.8 yards a return.

Hackett, an Australian, does not allow the pressure to get to him. He actually laughs off his responsibility when he breaks down what he is called on to do for the Utes.

“I get nine snaps (in a 20-17 double-overtime win last week at Stanford), and that’s a lot of snaps,” he was quoted as saying. “Generally, I get five snaps, and I go make the most of them. But at the end of the day, I’m kicking, essentially, pigskin.

“We eat bacon. So I’m kicking bacon down a field for people’s entertainment. It’s not that big of a deal. I just have a laugh on the sideline and do my job. It’s something that’s pretty easy.” publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also has written articles for Bleacher Report and Lindy’s College Sports.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
To Top