SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah ran all over Arizona for 60 minutes and the Wildcats were powerless to do anything to stop it.
The 12th-ranked Utes tallied a season-high 306 yards rushing in a 45-20 win over Arizona on Saturday night. Nine different players had at least one carry, and Ja’Quinden Jackson led the way with a career-high 97 yards and a touchdown.
“We were able to run the ball downhill all night,” junior quarterback Cam Rising said.
Utah averaged 5.6 yards per rush while finishing with its highest single-game rushing yardage total since racking up 441 against Stanford last season.
Utes coach Kyle Whittingham credited his offensive line for keying the outburst by consistently creating holes and keeping the Arizona defensive line on its heels.
“The running backs ran hard, and they did some good things on their own, but nobody rushes for over 300 yards without the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage,” Whittingham said.
Rising threw for 151 yards and a touchdown in his return following a one-game absence. Utah (No. 14 CFP, 7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) forced seven fumbles and recovered four.
Jayden de Laura had 159 yards passing and ran for a touchdown to lead Arizona (3-6, 1-5). The Wildcats totaled 387 yards but gained only 138 yards after halftime.
“We just couldn’t get any momentum,” Arizona coach Jedd Fisch said. “We could move the ball past the 40 but didn’t end up going further and turned it over a couple of times when I thought we had touchdown opportunities.”
Utah took control of the game in the second quarter behind an imposing running attack. The Utes racked up 153 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in the first half while averaging 7.0 yards per carry. Three of the scores came in the second quarter.
Arizona got its only touchdown before halftime when Michael Wiley gained 57 yards on a jet sweep to set up de Laura’s 3-yard scoring run two plays later to tie the score 7-7.
Third string QB Nate Johnson scored touchdowns on his first two career carries to help Utah pull away before halftime. His first touchdown, an 8-yard run, put the Utes up 14-7. After Zemaiah Vaughn recovered a muffed punt return at the Arizona 9, Johnson punched it in on his second run one play later to extend the lead to 28-7.
“Ball security is the number one thing,” Wiley said. “Can’t win games with lots of turnovers.”
The Utes drove deep into Arizona territory twice in the third quarter, but fumbles ended both drives. Utah finally scored its fifth touchdown early in the fourth on Rising’s touchdown pass. He connected with Thomas Yassmin on a 12-yard strike to extend the Utes’ lead to 38-10.
Arizona: The Wildcats came into the game with nation’s third-ranked passing offense but struggled to generate much through the air against Utah. Arizona was held to 231 yards passing after averaging 340.1 yards through the air in its previous contests.
Utah: Taking a running back-by-committee approach worked well for the Utes. Nine different players carried the ball for Utah and five averaged at least seven yards per carry.
Utah may have gotten a sneak peak at its quarterback of the future. Johnson made an immediate impact with his speed, vision, and playmaking ability. The true freshman knew he would get a chance to show off his abilities when Utah coaches installed a Wildcat package in the offense for him in practice on Monday.
“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Johnson said. “Most true freshman quarterbacks don’t really play. They intend on redshirting, so (being involved) really gave me a big confidence booster.”
Whittingham said the youngster has only scratched the surface in what he can do in the Utah offense.
“Nate’s got a ton of potential. He’s got a very high ceiling,” Whittingham said. “He also throws the ball very well. We see it in practice every day.”
Arizona has given up at least 45 points five times in six Pac-12 games this season. The Wildcats’ defense did have one silver lining around another dark cloud. For the just the second time this season, they forced takeaways against a league opponent.
The Wildcats had gone three straight games without producing a turnover before recovering two Utah fumbles in the third quarter. Arizona has totaled three takeaways in six league games so far.
Utah could move up in the AP Top 25 with another dominant home win over a Pac-12 foe.
Arizona visits UCLA on Saturday.
Utah hosts Stanford on Saturday.
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