Utah Utes, Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, UT, 3:30 p.m.
Now that UCLA has beaten a BCS ranked top-20 team, their next challenge will loom just as large if not larger: going on to road to face a Utah program that’s starting to hit their stride in their new conference, and have someone on their coaching staff who’s quite familiar with the Bruins and their personnel – offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who held the same position in Westwood under Rick Neuheisel the previous three years.
After not getting off to as good a start as they had hoped, beating archenemy BYU in their Holy War but losing their first four Pac-12 Conference games, the Utes have won their last two contests, including defeating a team that bullied UCLA around like a little kid in the schoolyard, Arizona, last Saturday on the same field where the Bruins were put on life support in Tucson.
That win leaves Utah with an overall record of five wins and four losses, the same as UCLA, which means…
Bowl eligibility will be at stake for both teams in Salt Lake City this Saturday – to say that Utah’s motivation level will be pronounced would be a fairly huge understatement.
The Bruins’ motivation should be extremely high as well, as they need this win to not only become eligible for the post season after going 4-8 last year, but to also stay in first place in the Pacific-12 Conference’s Southern Division and to stay on track for a berth in the Pac-12 title game on December 2nd.
After the struggles that the Bruins have endured so far, it’s hard for me to believe that I’d be able to write what I just wrote.
But this game will not be easy, as the Utes have a good running game led by John White IV, stepping up after quarterback Jordan Wynn was injured for the season against Washington on October 1st.
Chow, being the offensive guru that he is, will surely devise a game plan to try and exploit UCLA’s defense. Jon Hays, who took over for Wynn, hasn’t been chopped liver behind center as he threw touchdown passes of 65 and 44 yards against Arizona last Saturday.
And the Bruins will be in front of a hostile crowd at Rice-Eccles Stadium that would like nothing more than to become bowl eligible in their first season in the Pac-12 Conference.
At UCLA’s expense.
Which would wreck their Pac-12 South title chances.
And hurt their post season hopes to boot.
Most of all, this will be a major test for the Bruins to see if they can – very importantly – avoid a letdown after beating a ranked Arizona State team, and also to see if Rick Neuheisel’s blue and gold-clad squad is truly for real.