No. 19 Arizona faces No. 16 Utah with Pac-12 championship game hopes still intact
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — No. 19 Arizona’s rise from being one of the nation’s worst teams two years ago to being in position to potentially play in the Pac-12 championship game has caused a predictable response.
Namely, rumors about Jedd Fisch leaving the program for another job.
The Wildcats’ coach is having none of it.
“This time of year, when you’re successful and your team is playing, well, that’s what happens,” Fisch said. “I think our only focus is beating Utah, this is a great team coming in.”
The Wildcats (7-3, 5-2 Pac-12, No. 17 CFP) are certainly going to need it against one of the nation’s best defensive teams.
Heading into Saturday’s game, No. 16 Utah (7-3, 4-3) is in the top-20 nationally in first down and third down defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense.
But for all the Utes have done on defense, it hasn’t been enough to put them in position to win a third straight Pac-12 title.
Utah arrives in the desert with two losses in three games, the last one to No. 5 Washington after a brutal second-half letdown. The Utes did seemingly everything right in the first half, scoring 28 points, but were shut out in the second to lose 35-28 and watch their Pac-12 title game hopes disintegrate.
“You’ve got to take the same approach, understand that there is more football to be played, you’ve got to rebound, you’ve got to respond,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “And our team has been good at that this year these first couple of times, and we’ve got to do the same thing this time around.”
Arizona heads into the Top-25 showdown on a roll.
The Wildcats beat ranked teams in three consecutive games for the first time in program history and followed it up with a road win over Colorado last week, winning on Tyler Loop’s 24-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
Arizona is already bowl eligible for the first time since 2017 and has won four straight for the first time since 2019.
“Arizona is playing very well,” Whittingham said. “They are 7-3 and coming off a win against Colorado. They have a lot going for them.”
CLASS OF ’22
Arizona’s rise this season has been keyed by Fisch’s 2022 recruiting class and the coaching staff’s ability to develop players.
Quarterback Noah Fifita, receivers Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Cowing, running back Jonah Coleman, linebacker Jacob Manu and cornerback Tacario Davis — among others — were all part of the class Fisch pulled in during a 1-11 season in 2021.
“We take great pride in developing players here and making players better every week,” Fisch said. “We don’t stop. We don’t stop doing that. We work very hard in practice.”
STILL NO RISING
Utah spent the early part of the season hoping quarterback Cameron Rising would return from a torn ACL suffered in last season’s Rose Bowl.
Rising was declared out for the season three weeks ago, leaving the team in the hands of Bryson Barnes.
The junior has been good at times, inconsistent others. Barnes has thrown for 1,197 yards and 10 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He was sharp in the first half against Washington last week, then went 4 of 13 for 29 yards while facing constant pressure in the second.
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