Utah Offensive Line vs UCLA Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
Utah's line put together another solid effort against Arizona last week giving up just one sack while helping running back John White rush for over 100 yards for the fifth time this season. The line made it through last week's game injury-free, which is a big positive for this group as depth has become a bit of an issue recently. Early-season problems at the tackle positions seem to be fixed too; starters John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have played exceptionally well in their last two starts. Sam Brenner continues to be Utah's rock on the interior of the line, he has started all nine games this season and has played more downs than any other Ute lineman this year. Brenner has been solid in both run-blocking and pass protection. Expect to see the same front-five starting for the Utes once again – consistency on the line between Cullen, Brenner, Bergstrom, Tevita Stevens, and Miles Mason is one reason this group is playing so well.
UCLA Defensive Line
UCLA's defensive line is statistically the weakest unit on the Bruin defense. Junior tackle Donovan Carter is the only Bruin in the top-ten in tackles (10th) but does not start. The UCLA line has combined to make 16.5 tackles for loss but has only totaled 8 combined sacks on the season. Against the run UCLA is very soft giving up an average of 186 rushing yards per game. UCLA's rotation of defensive tackles have combined to make just 6.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks, numbers that will not improve against Utah's solid interior offensive line. Two weeks ago I would have been worried about Utah's tackles against the Bruin defensive ends, specifically left end Datone Jones, but Utah's improved line play of late has convinced me they'll control the edges. Barring a complete collapse on the line, Utah should dominate this unit matchup.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs UCLA Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
Utah's workhorse John White continues to pile up yardage - and carries - each week as he has become the focal point of the offense. White has carried a combined 62 times in the previous two games and is averaging a whopping 157 yards and just less than 5 yards per carry over those two contests. White crossed the 1,000-yard mark last week and is the first Ute to reach 1,000 yards in his first year since Mike Anderson in 1998. White is hitting his stride in the backfield just as the Utes hit the home-stretch of their schedule. Keep an eye on fullback Shawn Asiata. His play in both the run and pass game recently has been nothing short of spectacular. He has made an overlooked difference in Utah's two-game win streak. At tight end both Jake Murphy and Kendrick Moeai continue to be disappointments in the passing game. Since week three neither player has made an impact on a game and the two have combined for just 13 receptions and one touchdown this season. Both are skilled players but are drastically underperforming.
Senior Sean Westgate is a standout at both outside linebacker and on special teams for the Bruins. Westgate has two interceptions on the year and loves to play in pass coverage. He'll most likely lock up against the Utah tight ends and should do a good job of keeping them in check. At inside linebacker, Patrick Larimore leads the UCLA defense in tackles and plays the run very well. He typically puts himself around the ball and has recorded a forced fumble this year to go along with his team-leading 57 tackles. Glenn Love and Jordan Zumwalt will rotate often at the final linebacker position. The two have combined to make 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, and 1 safety. They are playmakers who are equally talented against the run and the pass.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs UCLA Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Jon Hays' growth as quarterback continued last Saturday against Arizona as the junior had easily his best game of his young career. Hays completed 57% of his passes for a career-high 199 yards tying his high-mark set against Arizona State. His two touchdown passes also tied a career high set the previous week against Oregon State. Hays' progression at quarterback has been very visible over the last few weeks. He has become noticeably more comfortable in the pocket and is throwing a more confident ball. His trust in his playmakers at wide receiver is showing on the field as he has begun taking more shots downfield each game allowing skilled receivers Devonte Christopher, Reggie Dunn, and Dres Anderson make plays for him. Watch for youngster Kenneth Scott to continue to see playing time. His big body and good hand have earned him more time in each of the last two games.
UCLA Corners and Safeties
If the defensive line for the Bruins is their defensive weakness, then the secondary is their strength. Cornerback Aaron Hester leads the team in pass breakups with seven this year and is second in tackles. Hester also has one interception this season and has four in his career. Hester should do a good job on DeVonte Christopher but may not be able to shut him down for four quarters. IF he plays, that is. Hester suffered what appeared to be a serious injury during practice this week and could miss the game Saturday. On the other side of the field corner Sheldon Price is second on the team in pass breakups behind Hester and also has an interception this year. Price is a quality corner but could have some big shoes to fill if Hester sits out. At the safety position redshirt freshman Tevin McDonald has quickly become a playmaker for the Bruins. McDonald is currently tied for fifth in the Pac-12 in interceptions with three this season and is tied for eighth in pass breakups. McDonald does a good job of limiting the deep ball and will likely force Utah to throw short, controlled passes for much of the game.
Utah Defensive Line vs UCLA Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
The Ute defensive line didn't have the dominant effort that we've come to expect against the Arizona run game, but they did an excellent job rushing the quarterback. In the first half Nick Foles was extremely uncomfortable and was often throwing on the run because of pressure from Utah's front-four alone. Star Lotulelei continues to be a force on the line that opposing teams have to account for at all times. This special attention has helped others on the line such as Tevita Finau flourish. Joe Kruger didn't begin the year playing like many had hoped he would but it looks like things have finally started to click for the giant defensive end. Kruger's five tackles against Arizona led the defensive line, his third time leading the line in tackles this year. Utah's defensive line continues to be without question the biggest strength of the team.
UCLA Offensive Line
UCLA is a team that loves to control the ball and it all starts up front for the Bruins. UCLA's pistol offense is predicated on their ability to get a good push from the offensive line which in turn gives the quarterback time to make his reads and decide to hand the ball off, take off and run, or stay in the pocket and pass downfield. Without the proper blocking up front the pistol can fall apart quickly. Luckily for the Bruins they have a great offensive line. The player to watch on the UCLA line is senior tackle Mike Harris. Harris leads the team with 37 starts over his five-year career and has started every game for the Bruins this season. Harris will face off against Derrick Shelby in what should be a great matchup between skilled players. Senior center Kai Maiava was a preseason Rimington Award Finalist and has started all but one game for the Bruins. Maiava is a very good player but he and guards Greg Capella and Wade Yandall will have their hands full against Lotulelei and the Utah tackles.
Utah Linebackers vs UCLA Running Backs and Tight Ends
Similar to the offensive line, the Utah linebackers finally made it through a game without an injury, and that is big news considering they lost two linebackers for the season in back-to-back weeks before last Saturday. Lucky for Utah the players that remain are still as good as you'll find in the Pac-12. Utah's top three tacklers against Arizona were starters Matt Martinez, Chaz Walker, and Trevor Reilly which is what many have come to expect out of those three. The trio combined to make 20 stops, a tackle for loss, and an interception. Martinez's growth in the passing game has been a real key for the Utah defense recently. His developing ability to not just defend but sometimes lock-down opposing tight ends has strengthened what was a major weakness for this defense at the beginning of the year. This skill will really come in handy on Saturday against UCLA.
UCLA Running Backs and Tight Ends
UCLA's offense starts and ends with the ground game. The Bruins average over 190 rushing yards per game with their pistol offense mixing multiple running backs and even their quarterbacks into their rushing attack. Junior Jonathan Franklin is the most dangerous of the two backs you'll see. He's shifty and explosive and can break a big run at any time. Senior Derrick Coleman will also get plenty of time in the backfield; Coleman is the go-to back near the goalline and he leads the team in rushing touchdowns with 11. Both Franklin and Coleman are averaging over 5 yards per carry. I'd tell you to watch for tight end Joseph Fauria in the passing game, but it's really hard to miss the 6'8" receiver. Fauria has great hands to go along with his size and he runs very good routes for a big man. Utah doesn't have a defender that can match Fauria's size so the Utes will need to be very creative in how they defend him this weekend. Fauria is especially dangerous in the red zone. When the field shrinks his huge size is a big advantage that UCLA loves to exploit.
Utah Corners and Safeties vs UCLA Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
Utah's secondary may have struggled against Nick Foles last week, but it was corner Conroy Black that sealed the win for the Utes against Arizona. After a questionable pass interference call against Black set the Wildcats up with first and goal from the two yard line Black intercepted Foles in the end zone and stopped the Arizona comeback attempt. Black, Ryan Lacy, and Mo Lee are very good corners in man coverage and none have been seriously outplayed by opposing receivers this season. At safety, Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen made some glaring errors last week that they were lucky to get away with. Rowe and Blechen have been brilliant at times and do a great job of limiting the big play, but their youth has occasionally made them susceptible to mistakes. Still, this is a very good Utah secondary that opponents have had a very difficult time with all season.
UCLA Quarterback(s) and Wide Receivers
Kevin Prince will likely get the nod this week at quarterback after his big win over Arizona State. Prince is very much an up-and-down quarterback but he has always seemed to be Neuheisel's go-to guy. Prince doesn't have the most intimidating numbers through the air but he's still an accurate quarterback who will hit an open receiver if given the chance. He's also good on the run and knows how to extend a play when he needs to. Prince's biggest threat may not be his arm, however, as he's an excellent runner in the pistol offense. He does a great job executing the read-option and can confuse defenses when he takes off and runs. Prince has rushed for over 200 yards in his previous two games so Utah will need to watch him at all times. Backup quarterback Richard Brehaut could potentially make an appearance this weekend, so keep an eye out for him. Brehaut has missed time with an ankle injury but should be healthy on Saturday. He has a great arm and is a legitimate pass threat. His health could force the Utes to prepare for two quarterbacks. On the outside receiver Nelson Rosario could be a major weapon for UCLA on Saturday. His combination of size (6'5") and skill will make him a matchup nightmare for Conroy Black. He's the favorite target of Kevin Prince so Black should be prepared for a long afternoon. Rosario is complemented at receiver by Taylor Embree and Shaq Evans, two receivers who couldn't be more opposite. Evans is the speedy playmaker on the outside while Embree considers himself more of a possession receiver who can be trusted to make the tough catch on big downs.
Unit Matchups - UCLA at Utah
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