Know Your Opponent: UCLA at Utah


UCLA suffered another deflating loss last week to Washington State, but can still clinch the Pac-12 South by winning the last two games. First up, the Bruins travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes. Here is your UCLA at Utah Preview!

Series History

UCLA has a lifetime record of 10-3 vs Utah. The Bruins started out 7-0 against the Utes, but that’s ancient history. The series is tied 3-3 since 2006, and tied 2-2 since Utah joined the Pac-12 conference. Jim Mora is 2-1 against Utah.

This guy had some big games against the Utes. . . Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The only one-sided game of the three was in 2012 at the Rose Bowl. Then freshman Brett Hundley led the Bruins to a 21-14 victory with 183 yards passing, 68 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns. That game was quarterback Travis Wilson’s first start, and the Utes were down 21-7 until a late backdoor touchdown with 3 minutes left.

In 2013, the Bruins got a last second 34-27 win in Salt Lake City when freshman Myles Jack intercepted Wilson to end the Utes comeback drive. Hundley ran, passed and caught a touchdown in the game, while Wilson threw six interceptions.

The Utes took revenge last year at the Rose Bowl when they edged the #8 Bruins 30-28. That was the game that Hundley was sacked 10 times. That was the game that Ka’imi Fairbairn had two chances to win at the end and missed (both attempts would have been career longs). That was the game that Wilson was benched for Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson. Thompson and RB Devonte Booker then proceeded to run through the Bruin’s swiss cheese defense for 239 yards in a frustrating night for Bruin fans.

Tale of the Tape – Offense

The Ute offense took a big hit when it was announced that RB Devontae Booker was out for the remainder of the regular season with a meniscus injury. Booker, who has run the ball 268 times for 1261 yards this year, is the only Utah back with at least 20 rushing attempts this year. With that being said, the running back duties will reportedly fall to JC transfer Joe Williams who ran for 37 yards on 7 carries in relief of Booker last week against the Wildcats. The Bruins shouldn’t breath a sigh of relief; instead they should remember what happened to them last year when Thompson lit them up as a backup. Williams will probably be able to run against the Bruin offense (who hasn’t really?), the bigger concern for Utah is if he can be the “1 stop shop” out of the backfield that Booker was. Booker is the second leading receiver for Utah, and not having him taking on pass rushers and catching balls out of the backfield will be an adjustment for Wilson.

How much will the loss of Booker hurt the Utes against the Bruins? Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of the quarterback, Travis Wilson may not have had his best games against the Bruins in the past, but he is the epitome of a “gamer”. The 6’7″ quarterback will definitely make big plays this Saturday, the question will be whether those plays mostly favor the Utes or the Bruins.

On the edges, WR Dres Anderson (a constant burr in Bruin saddles) has finally left the building. In his place, the Utes now feature talented freshman Britain Covey (518 rec yards, 4 TD’s). Look for the Utes to get Covey, who has had 3 plays of 30+ yards over the last 4 games,  in space for potentially explosive plays. The Utes also have a dangerous TE in Harrison Handley. Wilson has only hit him a couple times per game, but over the last three outings the sophomore has averaged 27 yards per catch and has  catches of nearly 39 and 59 yards.

UCLA’s has been pretty efficient the last two games after a rough boom and bust outing against Colorado. Noel Mazzone has returned balance to the force of the Bruins offense with averages of 249 rushing yards and 365 passing yards against Oregon State and Washington State.

After being dominated in time of possession against Colorado (UCLA had the ball for just 19 minutes), the Bruins held the ball for 37 minutes against the Beavers and 27 against the Cougars. UCLA doesn’t need to win the time of possession battle, but the Bruins do need to keep it close.

The offense is explosive and has shown the ability to score very quickly, but it has also been prone to 3 and out drives that take 50 seconds off the game clock. Against Colorado the Bruins had 4 good drives where they either scored or held onto the ball for at least 2 minutes (or both), but they had 8 horribly short ones. That will not get it done against a Utah team that has been good at controlling the ball all year (2nd in the Pac-12 only to Stanford in total time of possession).

The bruising nature of the Ute offense will wear the defense down if they are on the field all day. The Bruins have been much better the last two weeks. Against Oregon State, the Bruins started the game with a 3 and out before building the 41-0 lead with 9 straight productive drives. Against the Cougars, the Bruins managed 6 productive drives to only 4 bad drives. Two early stalls in the red-zone definitely hurt the Bruins bad last week, but scores of any kind will go further against a lower octane Utah team.  The Bruins will take quick scores, but it will be more important for the offense to be being efficient and help keep the defense rested.

Tale of the Tape – Defense

More from UCLA Bruins

Surprisingly, Utah and UCLA’s defenses have similar numbers through 10 games this year. The teams are 2nd and 3rd in the conference in yards per play (UCLA at and Utah at 5.35/play). The teams are 4th and 5th in the conference in points allowed (Utah at 23.1/game and UCLA at 25.2/game). The teams are 5th and 6th in sacks (Utah at 2.6/game, UCLA at 2.4/game). Utah (+1/game) does force more turnovers than the Bruins (+0.2/game), and the Utes are better against the run (

Utah is #10 in S&P+ Rushing Defense, UCLA is #59

), but both teams are stingy against big plays (

both are ranked in the top 25 against explosive plays


UCLA’s defense seems to have finally found its legs after losing multiple players to injury in the first half of the season. After losing bonafied superstars Myles Jack, Eddie Vanderdoes and Fabian Moreau for the year, replacements like LB’s Isaako Savaiinaea and Jayon Brown, DT Eli Ankou and DB John Johnson have all stepped forward to play big for the Bruins (and in some cases get hurt too). The Bruins are now as healthy as they have been all year on the defensive side of the ball, and Tom Bradley has been a little more aggressive with the new-found stability.

Utah has been hit by the injury bug more recently. While the biggest injury news of the week was the loss of Booker, the Utes have been extremely banged up on defense the last few games. Defensive linemen Filipo Mokofisi and Hunter Dimick have both missed time recently and may be limited against the Bruins. Although former Bruin Kylie Fitts has stepped up admirably, the Utah front seven is not at full strength heading into this Saturday.

Both teams will need to protect their defenses with efficient offenses and solid special teams play (UCLA has the better offense and Utah undoubtedly has better special teams), but don’t expect either defense to lose the game Saturday.

Tale of the Tape – Special Teams

This is the big play guy for the Utes: Freshman Britain Covey. Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The clear advantage for Utah in this game will be special teams. UCLA, which has been relatively solid (not spectacular) in the Mora Era, has been wildly inconsistent this year in multiple facets of special teams. While the Bruins do have a terrific field goal unit in 2015, the Bruins still do not have a reliable punter 10 games into the season and kickoff and punt return units have been been questionable as well. The loss to Washington State could easily be attributed to the Bruins mistakes in the punting game. The Bruins gave up a touchdown in the 1st half after Ish Adams fumbled (according to the Pac-12) inside the 10 yard line, and then Kenny Walker’s 0 yard punt set the Cougars up with a short field to score another touchdown early in the second half. The Bruins can’t afford giving Utah a short field on Saturday. Winning or at worst stalemating the field position battle will put the Bruins in a good position to bring home a victory on Saturday.


Even after the terrible loss to the Cougars last week, the Bruins have a lot to optimistic about. After seemingly losing players to serious injuries after or between every game, the Bruin are as healthy as they have been all season.  The Washington State game was a setback, but the game was lost on fluky red-zone and special teams plays, and the Utes loss to Arizona insured that the Bruins still have everything to play for. If the Bruins play the way they did on both offense and defense again, the results will probably be more favorable.

One thing to note is that in light of all the complaining about the Pac-12 referees by Bruin players and fans this week, the Bruins will either get a bunch of makeup calls against the Utes or they will rack up 250 yards in penalties.

Barring a zebra meltdown, there is no reason to think that Josh Rosen and the Bruins offense can’t continue to move the ball and put some points up against the Utah defense. On the flip side, UCLA’s defense has been incrementally improving over the last month while attrition has been chipping away at Wilson and the Utes. If the Bruins can avoid the outright collapse of special teams that they had against Washington State, they should be able to get by the Utes.

UCLA 27 Utah 20

Go Bruins