Utah Preview

Star Lotulelei and Utah come into the Rose Bowl on Saturday sporting a 2-3 record, but a tough defense that should test UCLA's offensive line...

• UCLA hosts the Utah Utes at the Rose Bowl Saturday at 12:00 p.m. PT, the game being televised by FOX, with Craig Bolerjack and Joel Klatt in the booth and Petros Papadakis on the sideline.

• UCLA is 4-2 (1-1 in conference), coming off its worst performance of the season in losing to Cal in Berkeley, 43-17.

• Utah is 2-3 (0-2), having lost its last two, at home against USC (38-28) and on the road against Arizona (37-7). Before that it beat then-#25 BYU (24-21), lost to Utah State (27-20) and beat FCS Northern Colorado (41-0).

• The series between the two schools goes back to 1933, with UCLA leading 8-2. The Bruins played the Utes 8 times from 1933 to 2006 and won all eight of those games. Utah has won the last two games in the series, in 2007, and last season in Salt Lake City, 31-6.

• The game in 2007 was the infamous blowout, in which Karl Dorrell took his #11-ranked Bruins to Salt Lake City and got pummeled 44-6.

• The last UCLA win was in 2006, which was quarterback Ben Olson's first start as a Bruin, throwing three touchdown passes.

• In the series, UCLA is 5-0 when the game was played in Los Angeles.

• Last season the Utes started conference play 0-4 before winning their next four Pac-12 games, including the victory over UCLA.

• UCLA is currently 4th in the Pac-12 South, and Utah is 5th. Arizona State leads at 2-0, then USC (2-1), Colorado (1-1), UCLA and Utah, followed by Arizona (0-3).

• Since joining the Pac-12 last season, the Utes are 2-3 on the road in the conference, with their two wins coming last year against a 4-8 Arizona team, and 4-8 Washington State.

• In its two road games so far this season, Utah lost to Utah State and Arizona State, and averaged 13.5 points and 267 yards per game. They scored only 7 points total in the second half of both games.

• UCLA has won 16 straight games when holding opponents to less than 20 points.

• UCLA has played 25 freshmen this season -- 12 true freshmen and 13 redshirt freshmen.

• UCLA has won 14 of its last 18 games when winning the turnover battle, and lost 28 of its last 39 games when losing or tying the turnover comparison. Last week the Bruins committed six turnovers against California.

• Utah is coached by Kyle Whittingham, who is in his 8th season as the Utes head coach, with an overall record of 68-27. He was named head coach in 2004, after Urban Meyer left for Florida. Before that he was Utah's defensive coordinator for 10 seasons. Interestingly, he was offered both the Utah job and the head position at his alma mater, BYU, but chose the Utes. A good little piece of trivia: Since Meyer had accepted the job at Florida before the Utes were going to play in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl that year, Meyer and Whittingham acted as co-head coaches, and the NCAA credits both with a win. Whittingham took over he reins from Meyer, and maintained the Utes' winning ways, posting 7 winning seasons in a row, taking them to seven bowl games and six out of seven wins in those games. In 2008, the Utes finished the season 13-0 and ranked 2nd in the AP Poll. From 2008 to 2010, Whittingham led the Utes to a record of 33-6. His 8-win season in 2001 was the worst since 2006. Whittingham, who is 53, won the AFCA National Coach of the Year and the Paul Beat Bryant Award for Utah's magical season of 2008.

• In 2010, the Utes started the season 8-0; in 2009, 9-1; and in 2008, of course, 13-0. Last season, Utah started out 3-5, and this season 2-3.

• Utah's starting wide receiver, Dres Anderson, is the son of Flipper Anderson, the former UCLA wide receiver who played for the Bruins in 1984-87, and currently ranks 10th in school history with 2,023 receiving yards.

• Utah's defense, which is third in the conference and 35th in the nation, has allowed just three points in the third quarter.

• UCLA committed 12 penalties against the Bears, and are currently ranked 115th in the nation (out of 120 teams) in fewest penalties per game, averaging 8.83.

• Utah's offense is dead last in the conference and 114th in the nation, averaging 299 yards per game.

• Gaining 102 yards Saturday against Cal, UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin is now just 263 yards away from being UCLA's all-time leading rusher. He has 3,468, trailing just Gaston Green (1984-87), who has 3,731.

• The weather forecast calls for a pleasant high of 80 degrees Saturday.

Utah's Offense vs. UCLA's Defense

First year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has struggled to create much of an offensive attack this year, but it's not entirely his fault. Starting quarterback Jordan Wynn (6'2, 208) suffered a career ending shoulder injury against Utah State. Workhorse running back John White (5'8, 188) missed the BYU game with an ankle injury and hasn't looked quite right since. The offensive line has been in flux, with a fair amount of movement among players to find the right positions for them. Even the receivers, the perceived strength of the offense, have struggled with drops this year.

Tailback John White III.
So, with all that said, Utah's offense has still been fairly inept, averaging a hair under 300 total yards of offense this season. Backup quarterback Jon Hays (6'0, 208) has been average, and hasn't been helped by a sometimes porous offensive line. Generally, defenses have been able to key on the run, stacking eight in the box to stop White, and Hays hasn't been able to make them pay for their temerity.

Behind Hays is Travis Wilson (6'6, 230), the true freshman out of San Clemente, who has gotten playing time in each of the first five games. There is some talk that Wilson could get the starting nod, or at least significant time, this week against UCLA, and head coach Kyle Whittingham has played coy with the idea, saying that the coaching staff will never name a starter heading into a game. Wilson came into last week's game against USC in relief of Hays with 5:19 to go, and led the Utes on a wildly ugly touchdown drive, throwing for 49 of 63 yards en route to the end zone, helped and hindered by penalties, drops, and a lost helmet along the way. Wilson has some decent wheels for a tall guy, and a strong arm, but there are some questions about his pocket presence and decision making.

White hasn't been able to come untracked this year, and a lot of that is due to teams keying on the running game and stacking the box. Also, his ankle, which he injured against Utah State, kept him out of the BYU victory and it still doesn't look like he's running with the same verve he ran last year. He's averaging just under four yards per carry, and at 75 yards per game, he's the eighth leading rusher in the Pac-12. Behind White is Kelvin York (5'11, 223) who scored his first touchdown against USC in the waning moments. York is a power back, but he has some decent agility and can bounce runs outside.

Ostensibly, the receiving corps should be one of the strengths of this offense, but so far this season, the receivers haven't impacted the game much. Obviously, a huge part of that is an ineffective passing attack, but they also haven't done a great job of getting separation from defenders that are often guarding them in man coverage. Devonte Christopher (6'1, 200), who was the star last year for Utah's receivers, has come back to the Earth this year, but finally seemed to come untracked this past week against USC. He's currently the third leading receiver on the team, although it's a close thing between the top three. Dres Anderson (6'1, 185), the son of former UCLA player Flipper Anderson, leads the team in receiving yards and has been the big play threat for the Utes. He made one of the nicer catches of the day last week, catching a 30 yard throw from Wilson between a few defenders to set up York's late touchdown. Kenneth Scott (6'3, 202) has been a force in the red zone, catching a fade against USC and leading the receivers in touchdowns this year with three. Reggie Dunn (5'10, 172), who UCLA fans may remember from his recruitment, hasn't made much of an impact this year, but did have six catches against BYU.

The Utes threw to their tight ends quite a bit through the first couple of games of the season, but have since really stopped going to them. Sophomore Jake Murphy (6'4, 252) is tied for the lead on the team in receptions at 14, but registered six of those in the opener. David Rolf (6'4, 250) has 68 receiving yards this year, but 46 of them came in the second game of the year. It might simply be the case that Hays isn't comfortable throwing in the seam to tight ends, so Whittingham and Johnson aren't comfortable calling those plays. If that's the case, the tight end position could open up again if Wilson gets more time.

The offensive line has had its share of issues this year, and really struggled in pass blocking earlier in the year, as they struggled to find the right combination of players. After not giving up a sack to USC this past weekend, Whittingham thinks that he may have stumbled upon a winning combination. The stalwarts on the offensive line have been left tackle Sam Brenner (6'4, 305) and center Tevita Stevens (6'3, 300) both of whom are seniors. Brenner spent most of the last season at right guard, but has made a pretty seamless transition to tackle this year. Freshman Jeremiah Poutasi (6'5, 342) has started the last three games at right tackle after Percy Taumoelau was benched after the Utah State game. The big switch for the Utes has been Miles Mason (6'3, 315) plugging in at right guard. Whittingham has heaped praise on Mason's play so far at right guard, and says that it has helped to shore up what had the potential to be a very young right side of the line. The Utes have given up twelve sacks and 33 tackles for a loss this season, so there's still a general sense that the line is a work in progress. UCLA's defense has been none too good itself this year. Despite a very aggressive scheme, or perhaps because of it, the Bruins have been prone to giving up big plays, with both California and Oregon State tearing into the Bruin secondary and feasting on UCLA's man coverage. At this point, there are, seemingly, two big weaknesses in the defense.

First, the cornerbacks have had issues in man coverage all year. Sheldon Price and Aaron Hester have proven, time and time again, that they can't guard effectively on an island, with Hester frequently fouling his man, and Price undercutting routes or getting beaten at the line of scrimmage. The Beavers had the first set of receivers that could really challenge the two, and then Cal followed with Keenan Allen, who Price really struggled to cover.

Second, the inside linebacker position lacks depth and talent. Patrick Larimore, who was slated to start and captain this defense, was lost before the season to a career ending concussion. Damien Holmes, who has since switched to outside linebacker, really struggled to play the position to start the year. Eric Kendricks has looked nothing like the player he was last season, and has been caught out of position by big plays frequently this year. Ryan Hofmeister has filled in adequately, but lacks the athletic talent to be an impact player.

Jordan Zumwalt.
With the full time return of Jordan Zumwalt, the Bruins are hoping that they've solved the issue. Zumwalt practiced this week on the inside alongside Kendricks, and the hope is that he will not only shore up the run defense, but also provide a better blitzing threat from the spot. Zumwalt, who played outside linebacker through the spring, fall, and early season before his scooter accident, played middle linebacker two years ago in relief of Larimore and looked good. There's not such an easy fix available in the secondary. Andrew Abbott, who is currently slotted at strong safety, is probably the best cover corner on the team, but hasn't seen much time near the line of scrimmage. Marcus Rios and Fabian Moreau are both freshmen, and there's always a worry about relying on freshmen corners. The hope is that UCLA can limit Price and Hester's exposure to single coverage, perhaps by playing more zone, or at least giving more safety help over the top.

The defensive line and outside linebackers have been the strong suit for the Bruins this year. Anthony Barr has been the defensive MVP this year after switching from offense in the spring. He has made a big impact rushing the passer, and has looked good pursuing ball carriers. On the line, Datone Jones has looked very good this year occupying blockers and making plays in the back field, but Cassius Marsh has come on strong in recent games. Seali'i Epenesa has drawn solid reviews from the coaching staff for his ability to hold the point of attack and occupy blockers.

Advantage: UCLA

There are a few unknowns with Utah's offense that makes this a harder matchup to pick than you might think. First, if Wilson starts, it could change the dynamic of the Utes offense, and allow them to use the tight end more and attack the Bruins a bit more vertically. Second, if the offensive line really is as improved as Whittingham seems to think, then the Bruins will not have the field day in the back field that one might expect from the statistics.

Our guess is that Wilson will play more, but not the whole game, and that the offensive line is still going to have issues, especially against UCLA's outside linebackers. Poutasi will have a tough matchup going up against Damien Holmes, who has looked much better outside than in. At 342 pounds, even though Poutasi is quick for his size, he's probably not quick enough to handle Holmes. On the other side, Barr has presented a matchup problem for most tackles this year, good or not, and Brenner should have his work cut out for him. Zumwalt should go a long way toward shoring up the middle for UCLA, and he and Kendricks, now that the pressure is lifted off of him, should be able to stifle White in the middle.

The big question will be the scheme for UCLA. This year, the Bruins have been able to pressure the quarterback fairly effectively with just four rushers. Blitzes haven't really added too much utility, yet the Bruins have continued to blitz pretty extensively throughout each game. Against Utah, UCLA should be able to pressure effectively with four, so the game could hinge on when the Bruins realize that. As Cal proved last week, even a bad quarterback can hit passes in single coverage, so if you're a Bruin fan, you have to hope that single coverage is limited on Saturday.

UCLA's Offense vs. Utah's Defense

We're not in the business of making terrible puns here at Bruin Report Online, so we'll just say that defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (6'4, 320) is pretty good at football. He has commanded double and triple teams regardless of the offensive line he's facing. Lotulelei will often line up directly over the opposing team's center, and sometimes in the gaps between center and guard. Physically, he's very powerful, but also has good quickness and acceleration. He's faced double and triple teams almost the entire year, and still has managed to lead the team in tackles for loss at five.

Lotulelei, and the defensive line, are really the engine of this defense. Defensive end Joe Kruger (6'7, 280) has been the pass rush specialist among the linemen this year, with 2.5 sacks. Kruger has been banged up with a foot injury over the past two games, which kept him out against ASU and limited him against USC. The expectation is that he will play this weekend. His brother Dave Kruger (6'5, 300)lines up opposite Lotulelei at defensive tackle and Nate Fakahafua (6'3, 250) is the other defensive end. The Utes will also rotate its outside linebackers in as defensive ends throughout the game when they want to put on more of a pass rush. Their nickel set generally looked a lot like UCLA's in the USC game, with two down linemen and two linebackers on the line of scrimmage.

Linebacker Trevor Reilly.
Surprisingly, the linebackers have probably been the biggest weakness for the Utes defense this year, and the starting lineup has seen fluctuation from game to game, especially on the right side. Eight different players have started games at linebacker for the Utes, with only Trevor Reilly (6'5, 245) looking very settled at the strongside linebacker spot. Even he, though, has moved up to play defensive end at times. Right now, it looks like Reilly and freshman LT Fillaga (6'0, 245) will start, with either Reshawn Hooker (6'0, 220) or Jacoby Hale (6'0, 225) working on the weak (rover) side. Hooker got pushed around pretty extensively against USC.

Reilly is clearly the star of the bunch, and leads the team in tackles and is tied for the lead in sacks. With his pass rushing skills, he can really dominate weak offensive tackles, and he's decent in coverage as well.

The secondary has been up and down for Utah, and it's largely due to personnel. While cornerback Ryan Lacy (5'9, 186) has been tabbed as the guy to lock down the best receiver on the opposing team, he hasn't been stellar, and can be overmatched by bigger receivers. Moe Lee (6'1, 191) and Reggie Topps (5'11, 186) have split time at the other corner spot, and neither has been very effective. The safeties, Eric Rowe (6'1, 205) and Brian Blechen (6'2, 218) have missed time due to injury and suspension this season, but both should start against UCLA. As a whole, the defense only has two interceptions this entire season, so it's not really a playmaking secondary. Without a defensive line that frequently pressures the quarterback within a few seconds, the defensive backs would look a lot worse than they already do.

Offensively, UCLA has had a tougher time generating yards in recent weeks than they had through the first few games of the season, as teams have adjusted to Noel Mazzone's offense. Aside from Colorado, each of the last four opponents have tried to stack the box and force quarterback Brett Hundley to hit deep throws to loosen up the defense. Hundley has been hit and miss on the deep balls, and was particularly inaccurate on Saturday against Cal, which saw the Bruins lose by 26 points.

Hundley has mostly been very good for a redshirt freshman, but on Saturday threw four interceptions, fumbled once, and lost a ball on a pass behind the line of scrimmage to Devin Fuller. It was truly an abysmal day, but one that UCLA fans are hoping was an anomaly. Hundley has good mobility, but has seemingly been hampered by a lingering ankle issue through the last few weeks, to go along with some tentativeness.

Running back Johnathan Franklin has been nicked up the past couple of weeks with various leg and hand issues. He only carried the ball 15 times against Cal, after sitting out the last quarter against Colorado, but still managed over 100 yards on the ground. Behind him, Jordon James had one of his best games of the year, with a combined 55 yards rushing and receiving.

UCLA's receivers have been a bit embattled this year, suffering from both injuries and drops. Devin Lucien, who was starting to break out a bit in his redshirt freshman year, suffered a likely season-ending collarbone injury two weeks ago. Darius Bell, who was starting to take some time away from Joe Fauria at the Y, reportedly suffered a broken rib against Cal and will be out for a few weeks. Shaquelle Evans had some serious communication issues with Hundley on Saturday, which indirectly led to three of Hundley's interceptions.

On the bright side, UCLA got some good contributions from true freshman Jordan Payton, who caught three passes for 41 yards against Cal. Payton, who has a college-ready body, is starting to come into his own in the offense, and had some nice runs after the catch on Saturday. He actually had pretty decent acceleration for a guy his size, and will likely see an increased role as the season goes on. Fuller, who only got a few plays against Cal, will also probably play more against Utah, as Mora has said he wants him to get 20 plays per game. Fuller doesn't have tremendous hands, but his speed and athleticism will give him a long look.

Jordan Payton.
The offensive line had, easily, its worst game of the year Saturday against Cal, and the left side of the line really struggled in pass protection. Torian White, the redshirt freshman left tackle, was actually pulled from the game in the third quarter because he was struggling so much against Cal's defense. The other freshmen on the line, Jake Brendel and Simon Goines, also had their share of struggles. Although White was pulled against Cal, and Goines also sat for a spell, there aren't too many options in UCLA's extremely thin depth chart, so it's really a case where the coaching staff is going to have to work with them to improve.

Advantage: Even

It's a very good thing for UCLA that the strength of Utah's defensive line matches up against the strength of UCLA's offensive line. Although the Utes will probably stunt Lotulelei out to the left or right at various points, he'll spend most of the game matched up against Brendel, Jeff Baca, and Xavier Su'a-Filo, which will be a slightly easier matchup for the Bruins. You still have to expect Lotulelei to beat the Bruins occasionally, but it shouldn't be the catastrophe that it would be if Lotulelei were, say, a defensive end.

Still, UCLA will struggle along the offensive line, as Lotulelei will still probably demand double teams throughout the game. With White or Goines matched up one on one on the outside, UCLA will probably have to use more help from running backs and Y's in pass blocking.

UCLA will have the advantage in the receiving game, with UCLA's receivers, and the spread offense, probably too much for Utah's pretty poor secondary to handle. With Lucien out, UCLA doesn't have a proven deep threat, but they're going to experiment with Fuller and freshman Kenny Walker to see if either can get deep.

Really, this matchup will hinge on how much damage Utah's pass rush can do to UCLA's offensive line. If Hundley has time to throw, he'll connect on passes, but if he comes under fire the entire game, it could be just as long of a day as it was against Cal. Our guess is that UCLA's offensive coaching staff will keep some more blockers in the back field and at least blunt the Utah pass rush.

Special Teams

Christopher has taken the kick return spot from Dunn this year, and has looked OK, averaging about 23 yards per return this season. He hasn't broken a big one yet, but he has good enough speed that he'll be a threat.

Charles Henderson has been much more of a threat from the punt return spot, averaging 11.9 yards per return, with a long of 57 yards.

Utah's kicking game has been pretty bad all year, with Senior Coleman Peterson (6'2, 191) only connecting on three of his seven kicks this year. In a weird quirk, all of his makes have come from the 40's, with misses from 27, 52, 37, and 48. The punter, Sean Sellwood (6'3, 203) has been good all year, averaging about 47 yards per punt.

UCLA's punter, Jeff Locke, has been great most of the year, save for a few hiccups this past weekend. He's mastered both long range punting and the short game, and his kickoffs have, by and large, resulted in touchbacks.

Ka'imi Fairbairn, the field goal kicker, has been, like Peterson, pretty bad this year, and has been used more. He's missed five of 14 field goals, and missed three extra points to star the year, although he's cleaned that up since. He's a true freshman, so there are some growing pains, but you have to wonder how long of a leash Jim Mora will give him.

Steven Manfro has handled punt return duties, and has done a nice job getting positive yards, and following his blockers. He's had some bad luck at times, with both Dalton Hilliard and Kenny Orjioke running into him to force fumbles. Damien Thigpen seems poised to break a big return out of the kickoff return spot, but hasn't done so yet.

Advantage: Even


At this point, it's tough to say exactly what kind of team UCLA is. Through the first three games, the Bruins looked like an offensive juggernaut, barely scratching the surface of their potential. After the past few games, though, some significant chinks have shown up in the armor. With opponents stacking the box, Noel Mazzone has had little answer aside from throwing the ball deep a few times a game to try to loosen things up. So far, it hasn't really worked.

Utah will almost certainly stack the box, as many teams have done, simply because it plays to the Utes' strengths and a significant pass rush gives them the best possibility of winning this game. To score on this defense, UCLA will have to keep more blockers home, emphasize passes in the seams, and Hundley will most likely have to hit a few deep passes. USC didn't have much success running up the middle, but when they ran off tackle, they did better, and you can probably expect much the same from UCLA.

Utah's offense isn't very good, so this shouldn't be a horrible matchup for UCLA. If Zumwalt can play solidly in the middle, and UCLA can limit the one on one coverage for both Price and Hester, the Bruins should be able to bottle up Utah's offense. White is the key for Utah, and unless he can shake off the early season woes and play like he did last year, there isn't a ton of scoring potential in this Utah offense.

Utah should be able to pressure Hundley, and keep the Bruins under their scoring average, but ultimately, the Utes have a pretty bad offense, and likely won't be able to score enough to win the game.

Utah 17

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