UCLA’s set to take on the Utes of Utah on Thursday night in the Bruins’ inaugural Pac-12 tilt of the 2013 season. The Bruins are favored by anywhere from four to six points, meaning Vegas recognizes UCLA’s struggles in Utah in the past decade.
The Bruins will have to overcome harsh conditions (though not that harsh, since it’s only October 1) at an always-raucous Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, but aside from the external factors working in Utah’s favor, the Utes actually look pretty good this year. With the hiring of offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson (apparently to mentor the young co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson), the Utes boast one of the better offenses in the nation.
And, as a result, some Utes players have emerged as legitimate threat to UCLA’s undefeated record. Who are they? Let’s find out.
QB Travis Wilson
Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the SLC Utes-wise has been the emergence of sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson, a lanky 6-foot-7 signal-caller who lays claim to a 166 QB rating and 1100 yards on the season. The Utes’ passing game can be attributed to Wilson’s maturity. After an offseason as the team’s starter (Wilson was thrown into the fire early last season after QB Jordan Wynn suffered a career-ending shoulder injury), it’s clear that Wilson’s going to be Utah’s starter for quite awhile. In addition to his nine passing touchdowns, Wilson also has five rushing touchdowns. While his frame and his running posture suggest he’s not much of a threat to run, Wilson is deceptively elusive.
LT Jeremiah Poutasi
The Utes’ offensive line has also improved considerably over the past year, and it’s why Utah’s run game has become competent after a bad year from John White IV. Much of it can be attributed to Jeremiah Poutasi, a preseason All America candidate. More importantly, Poutasi will be tasked with fending off another near-surefire All American: UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
WR Dres Anderson
While Dennis Erickson’s playcalling has afforded touches to a plethora of wide receivers, the primary beneficiary has been Utah wide-out Dres Anderson, who’s earned 18 catches for a whopping 404 yards to go along with three touchdowns. Following in the footsteps of his father, Flipper Anderson (a wide receiver for the St. Louis Rams), Anderson has contributed to Travis Wilson’s success. UCLA’s secondary has yet to line up opposite a receiver of Anderson’s caliber, meaning Fabian Moreau — who has clearly acquitted himself quite well at the cornerback spot — will have quite a lot on his plate. Although shutting Anderson down won’t destroy the Utes’ offense, it’ll limit their biggest playmaking receiver.