With an offense that sputtered coming out of the locker room at halftime, Arizona needed some help Saturday from a battered defense that has been far from reliable this season.
Oh, and the Wildcats happened to be on the road, where it had not won in nearly a year.
But with 3 1/2 minutes to play and leading by 7, the much-maligned unit came through when it mattered most. Utah quarterback Travis Wilson's pass to Kenneth Scott on fourth-and-4 was stopped a yard short by Jake Fischer and Sir Thomas Jackson, and the Wildcats took over on downs.
From there, place-kicker John Bonano capped a 17-point fourth quarter and sealed the Wildcats' 34-24 victory at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City with a 24-yard field goal from straightaway with 1:15 to play.
UA's first road victory of the season in four tries came 364 days after its last triumph away from Tucson, with 2012 being a leap year. Arizona defeated rival Arizona State in Tempe on Nov. 19, 2011.
For the second consecutive week, sophomore running back Ka'Deem Carey topped 200 rushing yards and did so against the Pac-12 Conference's third-best run defense. A week after setting a league record with 366 yards, Carey tacked on 204 more and a touchdown for the Wildcats (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12), who moved past the bowl-eligible threshold and guaranteed a spot in the postseason.
Carey has now rushed for 1,585 rushing yards this season, edging Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson by 21 yards and Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch by 81 for the nation's top spot with a game left to play. Carey also needs just 18 yards Friday against rival Arizona State to break Trung Canidate's single-season school record (1,602 yards in 1999).
Carey already shattered Canidate's single-game school record last week.
Utah (4-7, 2-6 Pac-12), meanwhile, watched its hopes for bowl eligibility slip away, guaranteeing a sub-.500 finish this season. Wilson, a week removed from completing just 8 of 23 passes, finished 28-of-40 for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Running back John White added 112 rushing yards.
Playing in his first game since leaving with a concussion two weeks ago at UCLA, UA quarterback Matt Scott completed just 12 of 27 passes for 160 yards but delivered the go-ahead touchdown to Austin Hill.
It was on the ground, however, where the visibly ill fifth-year senior was most effective. Scott ran 13 times for 74 yards and a touchdown.
The Arizona offense generated just 74 yards in the third quarter. But with momentum against them, the Wildcats quickly erased a 24-17 deficit and tacked on two touchdowns in less than six minutes.
Backup running back Daniel Jenkins, in an expanded role, punched in a 2-yard score to tie it, and Scott found Hill for an 18-yard touchdown to put Arizona ahead 31-24 with 11:07 remaining.
Trailing 17-14 at halftime, Utah's defense pitched a shutout in the third quarter and took back the momentum.
Utah place-kicker Coleman Petersen converted a 24-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 and receiver DeVonte Christopher burned the UA secondary for a wide-open, 36-yard touchdown reception to give the Utes the 24-17 advantage heading into the final quarter.
Against the 91st-ranked rush defense out of 120 FBS teams in the nation, Utah tested its luck early. The Wildcats, who have allowed opponents to convert 43 percent of third-down conversions this season, picked up a pair of turnovers on downs to start the game - including a fourth-and-1 stand against White.
The UA defense had mixed results on third down, allowing the Utes to convert 7 of 16 chances and prolonging a number of key drives.
After the first four combined possessions resulted in three turnovers on downs and a lost fumble, Bonano put the Wildcats on the board first with a 45-yard field goal at the 2:15 mark of the first quarter.
But the Utes continued to take their chances and it paid off. After eluding a defender and loss of yards and creeping into within a fourth-and-1 opportunity, Petersen executed a fake and waltzed into the end zone for a 3-yard score for the 7-3 lead at the 12:10 mark of the first half.
UA's offense found some rhythm on the next possession and answered in less than 3 minutes. The running attack of Scott, Carey and Jenkins accounted for all 75 yards of the drive - highlighted by back-to-back runs of 16 by Jenkins and 19 by Scott - capped by Carey's 1-yard score.
Defensive end Reggie Gilbert then recovered a Wilson fumble on the first play of Utah's next drive, and the Wildcats capitalized with Scott's 10-yard, untouched run for the 17-7 lead with 7:59 left in the half.
Utah then exposed the pass defense, as Wilson pulled Utah within three points on a wide-open 34-yard pass to Jake Murphy with 3:45 remaining.
Arizona threatened before the break, but Scott and Jenkins fumbled the exchange inside the red zone and Utes defensive end Nate Fakahafua recovered the loose ball with 33 seconds left.
Click Here to view this Link.Tracy McDannald
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor