Gameday Preview: No. 23 Utes head to Arizona to open Pac-12 season
TUCSON — Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez loves a good running quarterback and he has one in Brandon Dawkins.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, they will face one who might be at least as good when they take on No. 23 Utah in their Pac-12 opener Friday night in Tucson, Arizona.
The once-methodical Utes (3-0) have revved up their offense this season behind quarterback Tyler Huntley, and so far so good, with victories over North Dakota, BYU and San Jose State.
"I would rather not go up against a similar offense to ours," Rodriguez said. "If they just had a big old slug at quarterback, maybe it would be better. But he is very athletic. He can run and reminds me a lot of Brandon Dawkins. You might have a guy right there in position to make a tackle and he can make you miss or run by you. And he can make all of the throws, too."
Arizona (2-1) stumbled against Houston but routed outmatched UTEP in El Paso 63-16 last Friday. After being benched for a time in a poor performance against Houston, Dawkins came back to have one of his best games.
"We challenged our whole offense, in particular the quarterback position, to execute a little better, to see the field more," Rodriguez said, "and I thought Brandon did that. He's a very competitive runner and I thought he showed that again, he made some nice throws as well. He made some good decisions and was seeing the field well. You could tell during the week he felt like he had something to prove."
For both teams, the level of competition steps up considerably with the beginning of conference play.
"You play the games as they are scheduled and we have done what we are supposed to do in the first three, but I don't think there are a lot of teams in the country that know a whole lot about themselves still," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It is still so early in the year, so we are still finding out about ourselves, what our strengths are, what we need to get better at. This will definitely be our stiffest test of the year."
Here are some things to look for when the Utes face the Wildcats:
Utah's defense ranks 12th overall nationally at 246 yards per game and is especially stingy against the run. The Utes are second only to Duke in run defense at 49.33 yards per game. That's 1.66 yards per attempt.
Something has to give.
Arizona ranks sixth nationally in rushing offense at 328 yards per game.
Darren Carrington transferred from Oregon and immediately became Utah's main big-play threat.
Oregon dismissed Carrington from the team this summer after a DUII arrest.
Last year, Carrington caught 43 passes for 606 yards for the Ducks including the game-winner against Utah.
Now playing for the Utes, Carrington is by far Utah's leading receiver, with 26 catches for 409 yards and a team-high four touchdowns.
"Well you better be aware of where he is," Rodriguez said. "He's a grown man that's got great size and ball skills. The safeties can help a little bit, but there's inevitably in this day and age, times where people get spread out and your corners have to make plays when they're one on one. We've got to challenge our guys to be able to do that."
Dawkins rebounded from his disappointing performance against Houston with a monster game against UTEP. He accounted for six touchdowns.
The junior completed 18 of 22 passes for 155 yards and three scores and carried 13 times for 143 yards and three more scores.