Though UCLA Football does not have the toughest schedule in the nation this year, they have plenty of tough games and one of those comes at the worst possible time against the Utah Utes.
There is a UCLA-Utah rivalry brewing. Every year it seems that the Bruins and the Utes go all out in their annual slugfest. In the last six meetings since 2006, both are split with three wins each. In the last four years since Utah joined the Pac-12, the series is split 2 a piece.
Two years ago, the Bruins played an epic Thursday night game in Salt Lake City in a narrow win. Last year, the Utes bulldozed their way to 30-28 upset on a weekend UCLA had a chance to crack the top 5. This year, UCLA Football looks to get revenge, but are going to have to do it in the first of a two-game road trip to end the season at Utah in mid-November. So yeah, that is happening.
The Utah Utes
Nov 29, 2014; Boulder, CO, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham on his sidelines in the third quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field. The Utes defeated the Buffaloes 38-34. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham, 12th year
Record: 9-4 overall, 5-4 Pac-12
Since joining the Pac-12, Utah has had a tough time competing for the South Division. Even though they continually put up a fight with some of the top members of the Conference of Champions (they beat UCLA, USC last year and Stanford twice in the last two years), they have also stumbled a bit (last year they lost to Washington State). But still, last year’s 5-4 record was the best finish they had since joining the Pac-12.
If the Utes can continue to make improvements, than they have a real shot at finally contending for the South. They did lose a lot of good players from last season, but the hard-nosed type of football Whittingham employs will keep the Utes in contention.
Right now Utah needs to find a way to win the games that they should not lose (ex.: Wazzu) because they are battling with the Pac-12 big boys successfully. We saw that last season when the Utes flustered and confused a team like UCLA, they can do big things ike get a 30-28 upset victory at the Rose Bowl that had the Utah defense commit 10 sacks… IN ONE GAME!
So what will happen this year?
The Utah Offense
Sep 20, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) runs the ball in the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
What ever happens with the quarterback situation is vital to the Utes’ success this season. Honestly, the offense is the more questionable side of the team, but not at a loss. With two senior quarterbacks, Travis Wilson and Kendall Thompson fighting for the #1 spot, we could very well see another year of Whittingham cycling in both QBs. While this is a wait-and-see situation, the running back spot is not.
Remember the name Devontae Booker (if you have not already). The senior RB was second in the Pac-12 only to UCLA’s Paul Perkins for top rusher in the conference with 116.3 ypg. Last season at the Rose Bowl, Booker had a game-high 156 rushing yards, averaging 4.7 ypc and 1 touchdown.
He was able to do so much last year because he had an incredible offensive line that was third in the Pac-12 in rushing offense only behind Oregon and UCLA. Though they lose a few guys on the line, they should still have enough in their arsenal to fuel their running game.
Now can UCLA Football slow down this offense? After last season (in a game where their were clear miscues on the defensive side) the bigger concern is if new defensive coordinator Tom Bradley can fix these issues and hold back the Utes.
The Utah Defense
So the Utah offense is good, but the Utah defense is great. Great-ish. They also lost a lot of talent but like so many teams in the Pac-12, the Utes they are reloading with ease. Development by the coaching staff also plays a big part in that and will be one of the best defenses in the conference.
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First off, even though that pesky defensive line loses the ‘Sacker of Bruins’ Nate Orchard, they have so many other linemen that have the talent to step in and fill the void of his absence. Hunter Dimick and Lowell Lotulelei are two of those that will help keep the Utah D-line dangerous.
At linebacker, the Utes are not as potent as the D-line but still have some amazing athletes like Jared Norris who lead the team in tackles last season with 116. In the secondary, the Utes have less talent, but still mange to play tough. Last year, they were second in the Pac-12 in passing defense as they only allowed 246.6 ypg, so they should also continue to dominate in the secondary.
First things first for UCLA… stop the pass rush. The Bruins should look to have 0 sacks allowed this year and not 10. If the most experienced offensive line in the country can do that, the Bruins will have chance to a lot more potent on offense than last season.
The UCLA Vs. Utah Outlook
The last time UCLA was at Utah, it was cold, raining and snowy. It looks like that could be the case in 2015 as the Bruins head to Salt Lake City on November 21, so right there the environment will play a huge role (that and their loud, raucous and energetic fans).
Though it will be tough to have a full healthy roster for both teams by the end of the year, both of these teams have enough depth and talent to give us one hell of a second-to-last game. Both have phenomenal offenses and defenses so this game is a must watch. As for the outcome, though it will be very close, this will be a game that UCLA puts in the loss column. Until UCLA Football can figure out Utah (like Stanford) than things will be very tough for the Bruins wherever they play the Utes.
UCLA 32 – Utah 35