Shawn Poindexter snags an onside kick attempt in the waning seconds of Arizona's 24-17 win over Cal on Saturday, Oct. 6.
Welcome the wildest and wackiest of weeks, better known as the strange sensation that is Friday night Pac-12 football.
The Arizona Wildcats (3-3, 2-1) are tasked with recovering from their hard-earned 24-17 win over Cal last Saturday, with the reward of playing a solid Utah Utes squad that just beat Stanford by 19 points in Palo Alto.
The 'Cats and Utes will engage in some on-field shenanigans on Friday night, thanks to the conference's television rights deal with ESPN.
The Utes (3-2, 1-2) are no stranger to playing on Fridays, having beaten the Wildcats in Tucson last year, 30-24, on a Friday night in October.
The two teams have played 41 times in total, dating back to the prehistoric Rocky Mountain Conference in 1936.
The two have been remarkable even through the 82-year series, with the Utes leading the all-time split, 20-19-2, while winning each of their last two contests against the Wildcats.
Friday's game looks to be just as competitive, thanks to the Utes shutdown defense, which ranks 2nd in the conference in points allowed (17.2) and first overall in yards per game allowed (296.4).
The Wildcats, meanwhile, have looked pretty darn good on the defensive side of the ball of-late as well, holding each of their first three conference foes to 24 points or less for the first time sine 2010.
Coach Kevin Sumlin and defensive coordinator Marcel Yates have helped spearhead a defensive renaissance this year, thanks to the exploits of a maturing linebacker corp and a secondary that's much-improved from last year.
The interceptions by sophomores Colin Schooler and Scottie Young Jr. against Cal were proof of this newfound defensive mettle, with each coming up with huge plays that led to defensive touchdowns against the Golden Bears.
Their good fortune should receive an added boost this week, as the Utes' offense has been rather anemic this season.
The squad ranks 10th in the conference in points per game (25.8) and 11th in offensive yards per game (389.0).
Junior QB Tyler Huntley has been good-but-not-great this season, completing 62.7 percent of his passes for 1,020 yards and five touchdowns, with two interceptions.
Sumlin addressed the team's defensive improvements and the challenge they face against the Utes in this week's media availability.
“Our team is a little bit different across the board because we’ve had so many interchangeable moving parts," he said. "We had a guy (safety Scottie Young Jr.) who missed the first game, first couple games, that had two interceptions the other night. PJ (Johnson) is playing defensive end. I don’t think you can deny that his return has really helped shore up our front.”
The next two weeks will likely determine the team's postseason fate, with road games against Utah and winless UCLA in consecutive weeks.
The road after that is much more tumultuous, with three games against ranked opponents (Oregon, Colorado and Washington State), before closing the year at home against ASU.
How to Watch:
Arizona and Utah play at 7 p.m. Arizona time on Friday, with ESPN carrying the game.
Who to Watch:
Junior QB Tyler Huntley has 1,020 passing and 143 rushing yards with 7 touchdowns this season. The stars for the Utes line up on defense, with Bradlee Anae sitting fourth overall in the Pac-12, with 4 sacks this year. Linebacker Chase Hansen is another stud on defense for the Utes, with 43 tackles, 3 sacks and an interception this season.
How to Bet:
Vegas has Utah as a 13.5-point favorite, as of Thursday morning. ESPN's Football Power Index gives the Utes an 81.5 percent chance of winning on Friday night.
I think the Utes will win, though by a closer score than the experts in the Sin City expect. I'll go with Utah over Arizona, 24-21.