SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – If the 14th-ranked Utah football team wins its final four games of the year, the Utes are almost assuredly going back to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
But a loss against either Arizona, Stanford, Oregon or Colorado would all but end their hopes.
“It’s exciting,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It’s a challenge for us, and to be right in the thick of the race going into week ten is a great thing. We’re right in the middle of it, and there’s no room for error. We’ve got to keep winning.”
It starts with Arizona this Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Wildcats are sneaky good, especially on offense. Arizona just put up 37 points on USC last week, and led by quarterback Jayden de Laura, who was at Washington State last year, the Wildcats are fast, skilled, and average over 32 points per game.
“I think they’ve got a lot of good playmakers, one of the best receiving corps in the Pac-12,” said Utah defensive back Clark Phillips III. “But when you call yourself a good DB corp, you look forward to matchups like this.”
“They’re doing a lot of good things offensively,” Whittingham said. “They put up 470 yards per game, 30-something points. The quarterback is just what we’ve seen the last several weeks. He’s very athletic, tough to sack, so we’re going to have our hands full.”
With Tavion Thomas still out, freshman Jaylon Glover showed he can be a bellcow back, carrying the ball 20 times for 76 yards and a touchdown in last week’s 21-17 win over Washington State.
“I think I did pretty well,” Glover said. “I’m my biggest critic, so I always think I can improve. But assignment-wise, I did a great job Now it’s just keep stacking it and get better each week.”
“He’s a guy who can carry the football 20-plus times a game,” Whittingham said. “He’s only going to get better as he continues to marinate in the program.”
The Utes hope Cam Rising will be back, but if not, backup Bryson Barnes showed he’s capable of leading the team to victory.
“Like we always say, next man up,” defensive lineman Junior Tafuna said. “You saw that with Bryson Barnes, and man, that shows a lot of confidence. He was the next man up, and it was just awesome because there was no flinch.”
After such a successful game in his first college start, Barnes, who learned he was starting just 30 minutes prior to kickoff, credits Rising for helping his development.
“The dude is a leader, he does things right, he’s a great player,” Barnes said about Rising. “He’s just a great person overall, so I couldn’t ask for a better guy to be above me right now.”
Utah and Arizona kick off at 5:30 p.m. Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.