Arizona played toe-to-toe with No. 17-ranked Utah, but the Cats coughed up the ball four times and were ineffective in both red zone offense and defense and the Utes prevailed, 23-6, before the biggest Arizona Stadium crowd in four seasons.
Arizona tailback Mike Bell fumbled on the first play of the game to give Utah the ball at the Wildcat 23 yard-line. The Cats’ stiffened on defense after Utah had a 1st-and-goal opportunity and the Utes had to settle for a Bryan Borreson field goal.
Utah stretched it to 10-0 with six minutes left in the quarter, using a nine-play, 58-yard drive keyed by a 30-yard pass from Alex Smith to Steve Savoy and the scoring catch, a five-yard catch also by Savoy.
Nick Folk kicked a field goal to end an eight-game drought in the category a possession later, but Utah answered with a 50-second drive covering 67 yards, capped by Marty Johnson’s 20-yard TD run to make it 17-3.
Johnson finished the game with 105 yards on 18 carries, overshadowing UA’s Bell, who finished with 27 net yards on 7 carries. UA backup Gilbert Harris was the Cats’ leading rusher with 56 yards on 15 carries.
Folk capped an 11-play, 50-yard drive by Arizona on the first possession of the second quarter to cut the lead to 17-6 with a 35-yard field goal. The two kicks matched UA’s season total from 2003.
UA drove 80 yards for a 2nd-and-goal at the Utah 1 yard-line in the closing minutes of the first half, but could not punch the ball across in successive runs by Chris Henry and two by Gilbert Harris.
Another Arizona turnover set up Utah’s third touchdown. UA quarterback Kris Heavner was intercepted throwing from the UA 14 yard-line when a tipped ball bounced into the hands of defensive tackle Sione Pouha. The Utes took over at the 11 and scored on another Smith to Savoy pass covering 9 yards to make it 23-6.
A crowd of 52,790, the most since 54,297 watched the 2000 season finale against Arizona State, saw Arizona nearly match the Utes total offensive output, 312 yards to 326. But the turnovers were critical and unlike UA’s season opener when it had a +3 margin in takeaways against Northern Arizona.
Heavner completed 19 of 25 passes for 198 yards, while Smith was limited to 12 completions in 22 attempts for 170 yards. The two scoring throws to Savoy proved crucial.
Arizona scored only the two field goals in five penetrations inside Utah’s 20 yard-line, while the Utes were a perfect 4-for-4.
UA missed another field goal attempt after a poor snap and hold, and Utah kicker Bryan Borreson also had a bad snap cause a PAT kick to hit the upright and bounce back.
The loss dropped Arizona to 1-1, while Utah improved to 2-0.
Arizona will play host to Wisconsin next Saturday in a nationally televised game at 1 p.m. (MST/PDT) on Fox Sports Net.