Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 14:02 PM
Arizona at Utah
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Matchup: Arizona at Utah
Venue: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV/Time: ESPN, 10:00 p.m. ET
In multiple columns, guest radio spots and on my Games Galore podcast throughout the summer, I spoke at length about how Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin and Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead were walking into the best new coaching gigs in terms of being able to win right away. Well, here we are in mid-October, and Moorhead’s fresh off a huge win over Auburn to avoid as three-game losing streak.
As for Sumlin, his Arizona team (3-3 straight up, 3-3 against the spread) is a double-digit road underdog at Utah on Friday night. The Wildcats have quite a few games remaining in which they’ll be underdogs and it appears they’ll be fortunate just to go bowling.
As of early Thursday afternoon, most betting shops had Utah (3-2 SU, 2-3 ATS) installed as a 13.5-point ‘chalk’ with a total of 50.5. UA was available on the money line for a +415 return (risk $100 to win $415).
Utah is off its best performance of the season, going to The Farm in Palo Alto and dominating Stanford in a 40-21 victory as a four-point road underdog. The 61 combined points jumped ‘over’ the 45-point total in the Utes’ highest-scoring game of the season.
The game turned on Jaylon Johnson’s 100-yard pick-six early in the second quarter that gave Kyle Whittingham’s squad a 14-0 advantage. Zach Moss, who had a seven-yard TD run to allow Utah to draw first blood late in the opening quarter, ripped off a 35-yard TD run to put Utah ahead 21-0 late in the second quarter.
Trailing 27-7 midway through the third quarter, Stanford scored back-to-back touchdowns to trim the deficit to 27-21 with more than 16 minutes remaining. Matt Gay’s 34-yard field goal put Utah back into a two-possession advantage. Then with 7:12 left, QB Tyler Huntley found Samson Nauca on a 57-yard scoring strike. Gay’s 37-yard FG put the game on ice with 3:34 remaining.
Utah played turnover-free football and forced four Stanford turnovers. Huntley completed 17-of-21 passes for 199 yards and one TD without an interception. Moss had 160 rushing yards and two TDs on 20 attempts, while Nacua had a pair of catches for 70 yards and one TD. Britain Covey had six catches for 70 yards.
The win at Stanford allowed Utah to avoid a three-game losing streak and remain alive in the Pac-12 South with a 1-2 league record. The Utes started the season with a 41-10 home win over Weber State before winning 17-6 at No. Illinois. However, they lost 21-7 vs. Washington as four-point home underdogs before dropping a 28-24 decision as 1.5-point road favorites at Washington State.
Moss and Huntley are the catalyst for the Utah offense. Moss has rushed for 549 yards and six TD while averaging 5.8 yards per carry. He also has five receptions for 30 yards and one TD. Huntley has connected on 62.4 percent of his throws for 994 yards with a 5/2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has rushed for 143 yards and a pair of scores.
Covey is Huntley’s favorite target, hauling in 32 receptions for 328 yards. Nacua has caught 13 balls for 146 yards and one TD.
Utah is 26-23-1 ATS as a home favorite dating back to the start of the 2008 campaign. We should also note the Utes’ outstanding special-teams players. Gay, the junior kicker, was a first-team All-American and the Lou Groza Award winner in 2017. Senior punter Mitch Wishnowsky was a second-team All-American last year, but he was a first-team All-American choice in ’16 when he won the Ray Guy Award. Wishnowsky is averaging 44.0 yards per punt this year.
Utah is ranked 10th in the nation in total defense, third at defending the run and 18th in scoring ‘D,’ giving up an average of 17.2 PPG.
Senior LB Chase Hansen is the leader of the Utes’ stop unit. He has produced 43 tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, one QB hurry and one interception that went for a 40-yard pick six to put the No. Illinois game away.
Sumlin’s tenure started with back-to-back losses both SU and ATS, including a 28-23 loss to BYU as an 11.5-point home favorite. In Week 2, Arizona was trounced 45-18 at Houston as a 3.5-point road underdog. The Wildcats would bounce back to win 62-31 vs. Southern Utah and 35-14 at Oregon State.
Since then, Arizona lost a 24-20 decision to USC as a 3.5-point home underdog and then beat California 24-17 last week as a two-point home underdog. Sumlin’s bunch was extremely fortunate to beat the Golden Bears, who enjoyed a 25-13 advantage in first downs and a 476-265 edge in total offense.
So, how the hell did Arizona find a way to win? Well, it needs to hand out a no-look assist with some behind-the-back mustard on it to former South Carolina QB Brandon McIlwain, who threw three interceptions. Two of those were of the pick-six variety in the second half.
Trailing 10-0, McIlwain put Cal-Berkeley in front 14-10 at intermission on TD runs of 25 and 23 yards in the second quarter. However, with 3:19 left in the third quarter, UA’s Azizi Hearn intercepted McIlwain and went 34 yards to the house to put the Wildcats ahead 17-14.
Then with 3:13 remaining, Arizona’s Scottie Young produced a 24-yard pick-six. Cal added a 35-yard FG with 16 ticks left to provide the final score. In addition to the 14 points it scored, the UA defense also had a fumble recovery and a pair of stops on fourth-down plays.
Arizona junior QB Khalil Tate was nothing short of sensational last season, averaging 9.2 YPC while rushing for 1,411 yards and 12 TDs despite not getting steady playing time until October. To say Tate’s production has slipped this year would be quite the understatement.
Tate has run for just 110 yards and two TDs with a 2.5 YPC average. He has completed 54.0 percent of his passes for 1,412 yards with an 11/4 TD-INT ratio. RB J.J. Taylor leads the Wildcats with 600 rushing yards and three TDs with a 5.8 YPC average. Gary Brightwell has run for 308 yards and two TDs while averaging 5.6 YPC.
Tate mostly looks to three different targets. Shawn Pointdexter has 21 receptions for 407 yards and two TDs, while Shun Brown has 27 catches for 342 yards and three TDs. Tony Ellison has 17 grabs for 311 yards and three TDs.
Arizona is ranked 99th out of 130 FBS teams in total defense. The Wildcats are 103rd at defending the run and 70th in scoring ‘D,’ giving up 26.5 PPG.
Since 2013, Arizona has limped to an abysmal 4-14 spread record in 18 games as a road underdog.
The ‘over’ is 3-2 overall for the Utes, 1-1 in their home games. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 43.0 PPG.
The ‘under’ is 5-1 for Arizona, 2-0 in its road assignments. The Wildcats saw their lone ‘over’ appearance in the blowout win over FCS foe, Southern Utah. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 56.8 PPG.
From 2012-15, Arizona won four games in a row over Utah both SU and ATS. Since then, however, Utah has won back-to-back games over the Wildcats both SU and ATS. The Utes won 36-23 as 9.5-point home favorites in 2016.
When this rivalry was resumed in Tucson last year, Utah won a 30-24 decision as a 4.5-point road underdog. This was before Tate was inserted into the lineup ahead of former QB Brandon Dawkins, who threw for 248 yards and ran for 90 but was intercepted three times. Huntley completed 8-of-9 passes for 98 yards and one TD without an interception. Moss rushed for 73 yards on 14 attempts.
Kickoff for Friday’s Pac-12 South showdown is scheduled for 10:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets
--There are two other televised games on Friday’s card. Tulsa will play host to unbeaten South Florida at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN, and San Diego State will take on Air Force as a double-digit home favorite at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on the CBS Sports College Network.
--USF (5-0 SU, 2-3 ATS) was listed as a seven-point favorite at Tulsa as of early Thursday afternoon. The Bulls are 1-1 ATS in a pair of road situations, winning 25-19 at Illinois as 14-point ‘chalk’ and capturing a 58-42 triumph at UMass as 15.5-point favorites last week. USF is 2-4 ATS in six games as a road favorite since Charlie Strong took over in 2017. Tulsa beat Central Arkansas by a 38-27 count in its opener, but it has lost four games in a row since then. The Golden Hurricane hasn’t been getting blown out and has covered as a double-digit underdog twice, including a 28-21 loss at Texas as a 22.5-point ‘dog.
--San Diego State is still playing without starting QB Christian Chapman and star RB Juwan Washington. Nevertheless, Rocky Long’s club has won four consecutive games since losing 31-10 at Stanford in its season opener. The Aztecs beat Arizona State 28-21 as five-point home underdogs and then went to the smurf turf and knocked off Boise State. 19-13 as 13.5-point road underdogs last week. As of early Thursday afternoon, most spots had San Diego State listed as 11-point home favorites with a total of 43.5 or 44. Air Force (2-3 SU, 3-2 ATS) ended a three-game losing streak last week by blasting Navy 35-7 as a 2.5-point home underdog. The Falcons, who have seen the ‘under’ go 4-1, are 0-2 SU and 1-1 ATS in a pair of road outings. They lost 33-27 at FAU but covered as eight-point ‘dogs, but they failed to cover by the hook in a 42-32 loss at Utah State as 9.5-point puppies.
--Boston College star RB missed last week’s 28-23 loss at N.C. State nursing a sprained ankle. Nevertheless, the Eagles took the cash as 6.5-point underdogs in Raleigh. BC is 4-2 both SU and ATS and as of Thursday afternoon, the Eagles were 13.5-point home favorites for a 12:30 Eastern kick vs. Louisville on Saturday. Dillon remains ‘questionable’ and will likely be a game-time decision versus the Cardinals, who are 2-4 SU and 1-5 ATS and can’t afford to fire Bobby Petrino even if they desperately desired to do so. Dillon has rushed for 652 yards and six TDs while averaging 6.2 YPC.
--BYU has named true freshman QB Zach Wilson as its starter vs. Hawaii. Wilson has appeared in only two games this year in relief of Tanner Mangum. He completed 3-of-4 throws for 52 yards and one TD without an interception in mop-up duty during last week’s 45-20 home loss to Utah State. As for the Warriors, they went to great lengths to keep star QB Cole McDonald’s foot injury under wraps last week. In fact, Nick Rolovich sent another player out in McDonald’s jersey (with his name on it, obviously) to warm up prior to last week’s 17-13 home win over Wyoming. McDonald didn’t play but is listed as ‘probable’ this week (however, I’m not implying gamblers should trust that status). McDonald has been nothing short of sensational, throwing for 2,100 yards with an incredible 24/2 TD-INT ratio. As of early Thursday afternoon, the Cougars were installed as 11.5-point home favorites.
--Toledo QB Mitchell Guadagni (head) is ‘questionable’ at Eastern Michigan. Guadagni has 745 passing yards and a 10/1 TD-INT ratio. The Rockets have seen the ‘over’ go 5-0 this year. They’re one or 1.5-point road favorites with a total of 63.5. Since winning outright at Purdue on a walk-off FG in Week 2, EMU has lost four consecutive one-possession games in a row. The Eagles, who are 4-2 ATS, lost 23-20 at San Diego State in overtime in Week 4. Next, they dropped a 26-23 decision to No. Illinois in triple overtime. EMU rallied for a backdoor cover with a last-minute TD in last week’s 27-24 loss at Western Michigan as a 4.5-point road underdog. The Eagles have seen the ‘under’ hit in three straight outings.
--Iowa State owns a 6-3-1 spread record in 10 games as a home underdog during Matt Campbell’s three-year tenure. The Cyclones, who are off a 48-42 upset win at Oklahoma State as 10-point underdogs, were listed as 6.5-point home ‘dogs to West Virginia as of early Thursday afternoon. Campbell has named Brock Purdy as his starting QB this week with Kyle Kempt (‘doubtful’) not quite ready to return from the knee injury sustained in the team’s opener. ISU has an open date after hosting WVU. Purdy, a true freshman who had only appeared in one game and not yet attempted a pass before being inserted into the lineup last week in Stillwater, torched the Cowboys by completing 18-of-23 passes for 318 yards and four TD with only one interception. He also rushed for a team-best 84 yards and one TD on 19 carries. However, the Cyclones might be without star RB David Montgomery, who is ‘questionable’ against the Mountaineers due to an upper-body injury.
--Disgraced former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has been hired as the new offensive coordinator for the Arizona Hotshots of the new Alliance of American Football league that starts this spring. Freeze will work under Arizona head coach Rick Neuheisel, who is the former head coach at UCLA, Washington and Colorado.
Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.