Your 2013 UCLA Bruins appear hellbent on taking the Pac-12 by storm. After blowing their non-conference schedule to bits, the Bruins will get their first taste of what the new-and-improved Pac-12 looks like.
Their tilt with the Utes of Utah is on Thursday, though, in Rice-Eccles Stadium against a Utah team that’s also coming off a bye week. We know UCLA coach Jim Mora doesn’t believe in trap games, but if there was ever a trap game that exists, it’s this one.
Especially since Utah has improved rather sneakily this year. Behind an improved offensive line and upon the shoulders of lanky-as-hell QB Travis Wilson, the Utah offense is making strides. (We can’t say the same about their defense.)
How good is this team? Let’s take a look at some key numbers Utah has put up so far through four games.
The number of yards of total offense Utah averages per game these days. That’s quite the turnaround from a measly 324 yards of total offense last year. In fact, the Utes didn’t hit 500 yards in a game once in 2012. It’s no surprise that the narrative among Utes fans back then involved a lot of complaints about the stagnant offense. This offense, behind Wilson’s 1100 yards thus far, could be a problem for UCLA. The Bruin defense has been lackluster, primarily in the first half of games. If UCLA doesn’t play four quarters, there’s a chance Utah capitalizes the way other teams couldn’t.
Travis Wilson’s QB rating so far. Although it’s early, and though Wilson will have to play a tough schedule from here on out, this is the highest QB rating for a Utah QB since Alex Smith earned over 170 back in 2004. He’s completing 64 percent of his passes and he’s already tossed in nine touchdowns to just three picks. And, to add to that, he’s also this team’s second-leading rusher (edged out only by 50 yards) with 251 yards off of 32 carries. His frame doesn’t suggest he’s elusive (like we said, he’s lanky), but Wilson’s a threat.
The third-down conversion rate for the Utes’ offense. While the unit’s improved, they can’t seem to convert on third downs, and their conversation rate ranks 95th among all FBS squads. That’s a pretty important stat, especially when you consider UCLA allows just a 26 percent third-down conversion rate, which is 13th among all FBS defenses. The Utes have scored on every single redzone trip, too, meaning getting the Utes off the field on third down will be critical for the Bruins.
Utah’s national ranking in takeaways per game. Aside from giving up a lot of points (just under 25 per game) and yards (over 400 per game), the Utes’ defense doesn’t force very many turnovers, averaging 0.7 per contest. Generally, solid defenses do a good job of getting offenses off the field (be it by forcing turnovers or punts), but the Utes don’t seem to do that at all, and against UCLA — which now boasts a prolific offense — that could be a problem for the Utes.
The amount of passing yards Utah allows per game. Against FBS teams (i.e., eliminating the Weber State game, since that’s what TeamRankings.com does), the Utes allow 339 passing yards per game, which is bottom five in the nation. The rush defense (which ranks 40th in the nation) is doing its part, but while UCLA does rely heavily on Jordon James to drive downfield, Brett Hundley is as good of a threat to torch the Utah defense as any.