In many ways, this upcoming match with the Utes in Salt Lake City will be a tougher challenge for UCLA’s football team than the Arizona State game was.
Here’s what Rick Neuheisel’s Bruins need to do to beat Utah and gain bowl eligibility:
1. Stop Utah’s Running Game
Or at least slow it down, as that has been the 5-4 Utes’ bread and butter since quarterback Jordan Wynn went down with a season ending injury against Washington on October 1st.
It’s all on UCLA’s front seven to deal with and contain, if not stop, running back John White IV, which won’t be easy as he is a mere 5′ 8″ and 186 pounds – shades of the Bruins’ former standout Maurice Jones-Drew – and already has over 1,000 yards rushing on the year.
Combine that with the fact that UCLA has given up at least 200 yards on the ground in five games this season to date, and one can see the good reason for worry.
Datone Jones, Keenan Graham, and Cassius Marsh, who is returning from a two-game suspension, need to have a good day on the defensive line and along with the linebackers, led by Sean Westgate and Patrick Larimore, absolutely must be stout in tackling, wrapping up, and not letting White, or anyone else, gain yards after the first hit.
Or else it may be a long day for the Bruins.
2. Figure out some wrinkles on the pistol offense
The reason for this: Utah’s Offensive Coordinator, Norm Chow, who for the previous three years was wearing blue and gold as UCLA’s coordinator and, consequently, knows pretty much everyone that will be on the opposing sideline at Rice-Eccles Stadium’s field this coming Saturday.
If you don’t think that Chow will be giving the Utes’ coordinator some heads-up on what the Bruins will do to give the Utes an edge, you would be mistaken.
A good idea for UCLA would be to pass the ball a bit more and mix up the play calling to throw the Utah defense off guard, because they will be geared to stop running backs Johnathan Franklin and especially Derrick Coleman, who has been the man these past few weeks.
That means that Kevin Prince will have to throw the ball a bit more than usual, and have a good day in doing so.
The recievers, led by Nelson Rosario, Taylor Embree, and Josh Smith, can’t be dropping balls either.
Of course the Bruins can’t afford to completely abandon the running game, as a successful day on the ground will control the clock and help to keep John White and Utah’s offense off the field.
3. CUT OUT THE FUMBLES AND PENALTIES!
UCLA may have gotten away with those two turnovers and costly holding and pass interference penalties against Arizona State (BARELY!), but they definitely won’t get away with those kinds of mistakes against Utah.
Not on the road in front of a hostile enviroment and against a hungry team that’s trying to gain bowl eligibility themselves.
I really hope that the team worked on some drills to help them hold on to the ball and prevent strippage, as well as work on proper technique to avoid holds and interference calls, because the game may well depend on that.
And finally, the most important key to this game for the UCLA Bruins is to…
4. AVOID A LETDOWN!!!!
It’s a known fact that UCLA, in football, has had a long history of letting down and not playing as well in the game following a big, emotional victory.
I particularly remember the Bruins, after their epic 13-9 win over USC in 2006, getting beaten pretty badly in their next game by Florida State in the Emerald Bowl.
After that huge win over then-ranked Arizona State, that sort of letdown absolutely and positively must not happen against the Utes!
It will be a tough go in Salt Lake City this Saturday afternoon, with UCLA a seven point underdog and not being in front of their Bruin Nation faithful, having to deal with the cold and a hungry Utah team.
But if they execute and do well with these keys, they will have more than a good shot to get their sixth win.
And stay at least tied for first place in the Pac-12 South to boot.