Game Preview- UCLA at Utah

The Utes come home for a suddenly intriguing battle with Pac 12 South leader UCLA

Facts and Factors

Utah (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) hosts UCLA (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12) on Saturday, Nov. 12. Kickoff is 4:30 p.m. MST in Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game will be televised on KJZZ TV and Prime Ticket. The game will also be streamed live on UtahUtes.com. Radio is ESPN700 AM (espn700sports.com), SIRIUS (139) and XM (196).

Utah has won three of its last four games, beating Pittsburgh, Oregon State and Arizona and losing to Cal.

Utah has won back-to-back Pac-12 games against Oregon State (at home) and Arizona (in Tucson).

Utah needs to win one of its last three games to become bowl eligible. Utah has played in a bowl game for the past eight seasons (and nine of the last 11), including six postseason appearances under head coach Kyle Whittingham.

Utah trails the series with UCLA 8-1, but has the most recent win. On Sept. 15, 2007, with Tommy Grady starting in place of injured Brian Johnson, Utah upset the No. 11-ranked Bruins 44-6 in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

UCLA leads the series 3-1 in Salt Lake City, winning in 1960, 1962 and 1974, but is 0-1 in Rice-Eccles Stadium (2007). For complete series results and a recap of the 2007 game, see page 2.

The theme for the game is "Salute America" and the Utah coaches, band, cheerleaders and dance team will wear a special patch in honor of the 70th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen, who in World War II were the first African-American military aviators in the United States armed forces. After playing on the road in three of the last four weeks, two of Utah's final three regular season games will be played in Salt Lake City (vs. UCLA on Nov. 12 and Colorado on Nov. 25).

Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow served in the same role at UCLA from 2008-10 … Utah freshman receiver Dres Anderson's father Willie "Flipper" Anderson lettered at UCLA from 1984-87 before embarking on a 10-year NFL career. Dres Anderson has played in all nine games (starting four) for Utah this season and has 21 receptions for 308 yards (14.7 average) and three touchdowns … Utah offensive graduate assistant Chris Polizzi was an intern with the UCLA football program in 2009 and 2010. Polizzi helps coach the Ute tight ends … Kyle Whittingham is 1-1 against UCLA, with a loss in the Rose Bowl in the 2006 season opener (31-10) and a win against the No. 11-ranked Bruins in 2007 (44-6).

Utah came out of the Arizona game injury free. The Utes have lost seven players for the season to injury, including starting quarterback Jordan Wynn (shoulder surgery Oct. 20), co-starting fullback/tight end Dallin Rogers (knee), co-starting safety Keith McGill (shoulder surgery Oct. 20), co-starting offensive guard Latu Heimuli (foot), starting punt returner Charles Henderson (knee) and frequently-used backup linebackers Boo Andersen (knee surgery Oct. 31) and J.J. Williams (foot) … Utah has played five true freshmen this season: safety Eric Rowe, defensive end Nate Fakahafua, running back Harvey Langi, receiver/punt returner Henderson and receiver Quinton Pedroza.

The Utes are 5-0 in games when they lead after three quarters … Utah is winning the scoring battle in every quarter except the third … The Utes are 5-1 when they score first … The Utes are also 5-1 when they out-rush the opponent … Kyle Whittingham improved to 3-0 against Arizona with last week's win … The Utes have blocked three punts and one blocked field goal this season.

Utah ranks second in the Pac-12 and 10th in the NCAA in rushing defense (95.44) … Utah has held five of its nine opponents to under 100 net rushing yards: BYU (11), Oregon State (32), Pittsburgh (70), Arizona State (74), Montana State (75) … The Utes also rank second in the league in scoring defense (20.67/25th NCAA), pass efficiency defense (117.06/27th NCAA), red zone defense (17-of-25, 68%/T-5th NCAA), opponent fourth-down conversions (4-of-15, 26.7%/T-7th NCAA), turnovers gained (23/T-9th NCAA), interceptions (12/T-15th NCAA), and fumbles recovered (11/T-13th NCAA) … Utah is third in the league in total defense (340.2/29th NCAA), turnover margin (18 lost, 23 gained, 0.56/27th NCAA) and sacks (2.8/T-17th NCAA).

Last week John White rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the 11th player in school history to gain 1,000 yards in a season, to lead Utah past Arizona 34-21. Utah won the turnover battle 3-0 and the Ute defense created back-to-back takeaways in the fourth quarter. The second occurred on first and goal on the Utah 2-yard line and the Utes clinging to a 27-14 lead, when Conroy Black intercepted a pass in the end zone and returned it 57 yards. Black's return set the stage for Utah's game-clinching drive, which culminated with an 11-yard touchdown run by White with 2:50 remaining. Greg Bird blocked two punts and Matt Martinez made an interception to go with his team-leading eight tackles. Jon Hays tied his career high by passing for 199 yards—79 of those to DeVonte Christopher.

When Utah has the Ball

It's John White or bust. When White runs for big yardage, the Utes win. It's really that simple. And it isn't so much White playing well, as it is the offensive line giving him the opportunity to run for big yardage while opening up lanes. When the combination of the two are clicking, Utah moves the ball, and Jon Hays doesn't have to do much.

White continues to be the Utes' main weapon with his 113 yards per game and 10 touchdowns on the year. He'll run hard, both between the tackles and outside, is hard to bring down for someone of his size, and has plenty of speed to break off a big run, something UCLA has been succeptable to this season. He'll have his share of 8 to 15 yarders against the Bruins and their linebackers who have had trouble containing the run this season, giving up almost 190 yards per game on the ground. They've been somewhat improved the past two weeks in wins over Cal and Arizona State, but are hardly a group that is going to scare anyone.

The Utes must protect the ball, and a lot of that falls on JC tranfer QB Jon Hays. In their 4 Pac 12 losses, Utah is -11 in turnover differential. In their 2 Pac 12 wins, they're +7. Hays was turnover prone in hist first few weeks on the job, often forcing balls, or making bad reads, or making a bad throw. If Hays turns the ball over and gives UCLA short fields, the Utes will be in for long day. He's not going to beat anyone on his own, but if he continues to manage the game like he has the past two weeks, and let's John White continue to make plays, the coaches will be very happy.

Utah's offensive line is improved over the past few weeks, finally looking healthy, and working as a unit, but there are still questions with depth and ability. The right side of the line has been the better side this year with tackle Tony Bergstrom and surprise Sam Brenner manning the guard spot. Center Tevita Stevens has developed into a solid second quarterback on the field. The left side hasn't been as good, hampered by penalties and missed assignments, but have been improved in recent weeks, with much of that improvement coming from the play of left tackle John Cullen. UCLA doesn't have an overwhelming defensive line that is going to get a ton of pressure, and as long as the Utah linemen understand their assignments, and keep opening up holes for White, they should be fairly productive.

UCLA's defensive tackles have had a tough time this season holding their ground, often getting blown off the line trying to find seams instead of sticking in their gaps and stuffing the run. The defensive ends haven't been much better getting pressure, often looking slow and confused while trying to run down a back from behind of getting little to no pressure on the quarterback, allowing them to pick apart the secondary. Datone Jones will line up at both the end and tackle spots, and is the Bruins best interior linemen, but has had a disappointing season so far with only 3 sacks. Expect the Bruins to try to throw a couple of different defensive ends at the Utes, trying to get some pressure on Hays, and force him to make plays on his own, something that has led to multiple turnovers this year.

A lot of the success that Utah ends up having on offense will come down to how well UCLA Joe Tresey makes adjustments throughout the game. He showed an unwillingness to make any adjustments in the first 7 games of the season, and the UCLA defense was beaten over and over by the same plays. The adjustments have been made the last two weeks, resulting in better performances and wins. If Tresey leaves the Utah receivers open with big cushions, and brings the linebackers up to stop White, Norm Chow will keep everything short and take what the UCLA defense gives them; 7 yards at a time from Jon Hays to Christopher, Dunn, and Anderson, all of whom have the ability to catch one in the flat and take it the distance.

Advantage:Even

When UCLA Has the Ball

Run, run, and run some more. That's what UCLA does out of their pistol formation. With the thunder and lightning combination of Derrick Coleman and Jonathan Franklin, and the nimble legs of quarterback Kevin Prince, the Bruins live and die by the running game.

Franklin is the smaller back, but still has good size to go with tremendous speed. He's a straightline runner, who doesn't have a lot of shift in him, but always falls forward after contact. Coleman is a battering ram and has really turned into a weapon the for the Bruins, running through and over would be tacklers on a consistent basis. The Utah defenders are going to need more than a hand to bring him down, with gang tackling at times.

While the Bruins excel in the run game, Utah excels at stopping it. The defensive tackles are stout, and Star Lotulelei is one of the best in the conference. UCLA will have trouble running directly up the middle against the brick wall that is the Utah tackles and will likely have more success outside the tackles. The ends are going to have to learn to stay home and not be fooled by Prince when he elects to keep the ball and takes off running to the outside. Over-penetration could be deadly for Utah.

The Utah linebackers are very sound in the way they play. Nothing too dramatic or anything that stands out, but they stay in their lanes, and gobble up tacklers at will. Middle linebacker Chaz Walker is going to be a big key to the Utah success in stopping Prince, Franklin, Coleman, and the UCLA running game. He's a smart player, who is very instinctive, wraps up well, and doesn't miss many tackles. If Walker, who's one of the captains on defense, can get his defense lined up, and help keep everyone else locked on to their assignments, the Utes will be much more efficient in slowing down the daunting Bruin running game.

UCLA will take a few shots down the field and Utah has to be ready for it. Prince doesn't throw the world's best deep ball, but he throws it well enough, and has a big enough weapon in Nelson Rosario, who has 40 catches on the year, some of them of the highlight variety, that it has to be respected. If the Utah corners try to anticipate the zone read and get caught off guard with a bit of play action, Prince will find Rosario down the field. Conroy Black will likely get the assignment of sticking with Rosario while Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy will be asked to lock down Shaq Evans, Taylor Embree, and Josh Smith when not providing run support.

The biggest mismatch in this entire game may end up being UCLA's tight end Joe Fauria against the Utah linebackers. Fauria is an absolute giant of a man at 6-8 and 252 pounds with very good hands and speed. The Utah linebackers are undersized, and not exactly the quickest linebackers in the world. If they start stacking the box to stop the run, leave the middle of the field open, Fauria will have a field day, assuming Prince can get the ball up high enough into spot where only the big tight end can grab it. With the size discrepancy, Trevor Reilly might be forced to drop into coverage a lot to matchup with Fauria, as he's the Utes tallest linebacker.

The biggest unknown in this game is going to be how Utah is able to defend the zone read. They've shut down running backs time and time again this year, only relenting when the opposing team also has the ability to throw. UCLA isn't going to throw much and will rely heavily on that zone read. If Utah is prepared, and not fooled by Kevin Prince, who runs the zone read very effectively and efficiently, this game is over. Prince has to be able to move the ball with his feet or the Bruins won't be able to generate yards consistently and sustain long drives. Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is a master at making adjustments. If UCLA is having success with the zone read, he'll find ways to throw different looks at Prince and bring pressure from different spots to try to disrupt the timing of the UCLA ground game. The success of those adjustments, if needed, could determine whether or not UCLA wears out the Utah defense, as has happened in the Ute losses this year, or if they're able to stay fresh and force the Bruins to go to the air.

Advantage:Utah

Special Teams

Neither team has shown to be very explosive on special teams in the return game and the kicking games are fairly medicore outside of Bruin punter Jeff Locker. If there is one area for one of these teams to possibly exploit, it is Utah in the kick return game. Reggie Dunn has the speed to break one, but has yet to do so this season. He comes in averaging yards per return while the Bruins are giving up over 25 yards per return on their end. The Utes have attempted a few trick plays on special teams this year with some success. The Bruins are very conservative on special teams, but will attempt to convert 4th downs if inside the Utah 35 as opposed to kick or punt.

Advantage:Even

Intangibles

It's going to be cold. Very cold, especially for a group of kids at UCLA that are mostly from Southern California, many of whom have never played in the snow (70% chance on Saturday). Combine that with the altitude and Utah has a significant advantage with the weather. Turnovers could end up shaping this game. When Utah doesn't turn it over, they win (+16 in five wins). When they do turn it over, they lose (-11 in four losses. -13 in last three losses). UCLA has been consistent on the season with a -2 mark. They coughed it up twice to ASU last week while not forcing any and still got the victory. Utah has dozens of players on their roster from California, many of whom were passed over by the Bruins during the recruiting process. Using that as motivation could work in the favor of the Utes. UCLA has zero scholarship players and only one total on their roster from Utah.

Advantage:Utah

Prediction

Cold weather, at altitude, in a game against a well coached, generally disciplined team. This is a bad matchup for UCLA and a perfect one for Utah. UCLA's strengths play right into Utah's strengths as Star Lotulelei and the defensive line will keep the Bruin running game under wraps and force Kevin Prince into multiple third and longs that the pistol formation doesn't excel at picking up. John Hays will take what the defense gives him, using the big cushions UCLA gives the Ute receivers and moving them down the field in 7 yard increments. John White will go over 100 yards for the third straight game, running well up the middle and capitalizing on a few short fields given to them by the defense. A last ditch comeback by the Bruins falls short and the Utes win their third straight and clinch a bowl bid with their sixth win of the year.

Utah 27 UCLA 20

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