Game Preview: Utah vs UCLA

Previewing the big Thursday night matchup between the Utes and Bruins

Facts And Factors
Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) returns to Pac-12 Conference play on Thursday, Oct. 3, hosting No. 12 UCLA (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12) in Rice-Eccles Stadium at 8:00 p.m. MT. The game will be televised nationally on FOX Sports 1. Radio is ESPN700 AM. Satellite radio is Sirius 110/XM 191. Sports USA will be broadcasting the nationally from Rice-Eccles Stadium with the talent team of Dan Fouts, Doug Plank and Troy West.

Kyle Whittingham is 6-2 coming off regular-season byes with both losses coming in Pac-12 play (to Washington in 2011 and USC in 2012). The victories came over Wyoming (2005, 2007), Colorado State (2006, 2009), New Mexico (2008) and Iowa State (2010). Utah's all-time record coming off byes (including bowl games) is 107-42-6.

Utah trails the series with UCLA 9-2 overall and 3-2 in Salt Lake City. Utah has won two of the last three games with UCLA--in 2007 and 2011 (both under Whittingham, who is 2-2 against the Bruins)--before losing last year 21-14.

Thursday's game is the sixth-annual blackout game. The Utes will wear black uniforms and fans are encouraged to wear black attire.

Utah is 4-1 in blackout games, with wins over TCU in 2008, Wyoming in 2009, Oregon State in 2011 and Cal in 2012, and a loss to TCU in 2010.

Leading receiver Dres Anderson's father Flipper played wide receiver for UCLA from 1984-87. Flipper Anderson led the Bruins in receiving yards in 1986 and 1987 and ranks 10th in UCLA history with 2,023 career yards. He went on to a 10-year NFL career ... Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah's brother Karim Abdul Jabbar was a running back at UCLA from 1992-95 and is the fifth-leading rusher in school history with 3,812 career yards. He later played for three NFL teams.

Kyle Whittingham is looking for career win No. 75 against the Bruins. Whittingham is 74-33 in his ninth season as Utah's head coach. His next win will be his 160th as a member of Utah's coaching staff ... Dres Anderson has three-straight 100-yard games (103 yards vs. Weber State, 101 vs. Oregon State and a career-high 141 vs. BYU) ... First-year kicker Andy Phillips is perfect in both field goals (7-7) and PATs (21-21) ... Punter Tom Hackett leads the Pac-12 in punt average (43.4 yards per punt) and is tied for the Pac-12 lead in punts inside the 20-yard line (9) and punts of 50+ yards (6) ... Utah leads the Pac-12 in sacks per game (3.75) and ranks second in total sacks (15).

UCLA is No. 12 in this week's Associated Press rankings. The last time the Utes played a ranked UCLA team, they upset the No. 11 Bruins 44-6 in Salt Lake City in 2007. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, Utah is 0-3 against ranked conference opponents and 1-3 overall (win was against No. 25 BYU in 2012) ... Travis Wilson was named the Athlon Sports National Offensive Player of the Week and Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week on Sept. 23 after passing for 273 yards and two touchdowns (no turnovers) in a 20-13 win over Brigham Young in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 21 ... Utah's coaches will participate in the American Football Coaches Association's national charity project for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy by wearing Coach to Cure MD patches on the sidelines in the UCLA game ... Utah is 1-1 in games televised on the new FOX Sports 1 network ... The UCLA game marks Utah's third-straight kick time of 8 p.m. or later ... Utah's win over BYU was its fourth-straight against the Cougars and secures the Beehive Boot for the Utes, who swept the instate games. Utah beat Utah State in the season opener and also beat FCS Weber State (which does not compete for the boot). The win also earned Utah 10 points in the Deseret Duel Rivalry Series between the Utes and BYU, giving Utah a 10-6 lead.

QB Travis Wilson made his first career start against UCLA last year as a true freshman: a 21-14 loss in Los Angeles ... Initially preferring the use of his given name on the team roster, James Poole has decided to go by his nickname Bubba from here on out ... At running back, Kelvin York and Lucky Radley are now listed as the co-backups to Poole ... Nickel back Mike Honeycutt and tackle Viliseni Fauonuku, who got their first career starts at BYU on Sept. 21, have moved into co-starting roles on the depth chart at their respective positions (with Justin Thomas and LT Tuipulotu) ... Eight true freshmen have played: DE/LB Pita Taumoepenu, SN Chase Dominguez, DT Sam Tevi, LB Uaea Masina, DB Hipolito Corporan, TE Siale Fakailoatonga, WR Dominque Hatfield and RB Marcus Sanders-Williams. Dominguez is the only starter.

When Utah Has the Ball
While UCLA's defense isn't the best that Utah has faced this year (that distinction goes to BYU), they are the most talented that the Utes have lined up against. The speed, size, depth, and overall ability across for the board is staggering, but they're still gelling as a unit and prone to both metal lapses and the occasional big play.

Anthony Barr gets the headlines, but he may not b the most valuable player on defense for the Bruins. Eric Kendricks led the Pac 12 in tackles and combines great instincts and a nose for the ball with underrated athleticism. UCLA's other middle linebacker, Jordan Zumwalt, is right up there with Kendricks in terms of value. Both move around a lot, but do a great job of controlling the middle of the field for the Bruins.

If I'm Utah, the running game is close to non-existant Thursday. The Utes won't beat the Bruins by trying to grind it out. There's too much size and speed in that front seven. Utah's best chance to win this game is to go deep, and do it often. The big plays are a necessity in this one. If Wilson and the offense can't pull off at least 8 plays of 20 yards or more, they're going to have trouble scoring enough points to keep up with the potent UCLA O. The Bruin defense may give up the occasional big play, but they'll rebound from it and have their own big play right after. The Utes are going to need quick strikes on offense.

That's where guys like Jake Murphy and Dres Anderson come in. Opposing defenses have put the clamps on Murphy with excessive coverage, opening things up for other players, but Utah will need the junior tight end to have a big game and help keep the chains moving when the Utes get into 3rd and long situations.

UCLA is likely to send waves of pressure after Wilson. The Utes have struggled at times with blitz pickups (although they have improved as the season has gone along. Now they'll face the most athletic defense they've faced. Tackles Jeremiah Poutasi and Siaosi Aiono will have to be ready and know their assignments or guys like Barr, Deon Hollins, Myles Jack, and Keenan Graham will tee off on Wilson. With the bye week, you'd have to think that Poutasi is as healthy as he's been since the beginning of fall camp. His health has left that left side vulnerable. If he's playing at or near full strength, it will b a huge boost to the offense.

Utah will score points, but will they be able to put together enough 6 to 8 play drives that result in field position and allow the defense to get a breather? Finding check-downs to James Poole when plays don't develop to keep adding positive yardage will do just that. As valuable as the points will be, staying on the field and keeping the defense fresh for a second half push is paramount in winning this game for Utah.

Advantage: Even

When UCLA Has the Ball
What can't this UCLA offense do? So far they're averaging over 52 points per game and are second in the nation in total offense. It all starts with sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley. Ute fans witnessed Hundley continually slicing up their defense last season with his legs instead of his arms. Make no mistake though; Brett Hundley is more dangerous throwing the ball than running it, and he has a plethora of weapons at his disposal. Having found 20 different receivers this season, Hundley likes to spead it around, but senior Shaq Evans is the favorite target and UCLA's biggest deep threat.

How do you attack Hundley? Pressure works a little, but he'd quite adept at wiggling out of traffic jams, and has actually improved his ability to scramble. Hundley does have a propsensity for hanging on to the ball a bit too long, and taking more sacks than he should when a throwaway is an option. Will Utah's corners be able to lock down the UCLA receivers long enough to make that happen? It will be a tall task for Keith McGill and company. With the Bruins shuffling in so many different receivers, confusion out of the DBs for the Utes is a possibility with players unsure of who is lining up on who. If the players have done their film study this week, they should be able to temper that concern, but with the pace that UCLA moves the ball, there isn't much room for confusion.

With all of the hype that Hundley received this year, he's had stretches where he has struggled, but the Bruins have been able to get away with it due to playing inferior opponents. There are accuracy issues at times, and it has taken Hundley a quarter or two in each game to really get going throwing the ball. The sophomore is also having issues in the zone read game, keeping it at times he shouldn't, and giving it up when he has a huge lane himself more often than they coaches would like. With the bye week, that may have been fixed, but expect Utah to use Jacoby Hale in a way that was similar to how they used him against Taysom Hill as somewhat of a spy on Hundley, trying to make him pay for his mistakes.

That means pushing around a UCLA offensive line that is highly improved. They get down the field well and have been adequate at keeping Hundley clean. The Utah defensive tackles, particularly Tenny Palepoi, are going to need toplay the games of his lives.

Utah is likely going to sit in a nickel package for most of the game. The Bruins will run three and four receiver sets at them, with a back split out as well occasionally. That's a lot of dudes to cover for a Utah secondary that is still trying to find their footing and definitive starters at corner. Can McGill man up on Evans? Will Orphey be able to run with Fuller? Who locks down the big receivers like Bell, Payton, and Duarte? Is there enough athleticism to hang with a guy like Devin Lucien? Oregon State and Sean Mannion torched the corners, mostly because Mannion was out of this world. Hundley isn't the passer that Mannion is, but he has more weapons and Utah may not have the depth to slow all of them.

Some of those weapons exist in the backfield with Jordon James, Steven Manfro, and Paul Perkins all skilled backs that can both run and catch. James will get the bulk of the carries, and has made dramatic improvements from last year to this one. Still prone to doing a bit of dancing in the backfield, the Utah defensive tackles need to be on-point, disrupting James and company to get them out of rhythm before the play starts to develop. Hundley is also going to use his backs in the passing game. Utah has struggled at times with runners that can catch the ball (see Utah practices). If Jason Whittingham and Jared Norris aren't at the top of their game in recognizing when and where Hundley will be using his running backs, the UCLA offense will move down the field in chunks.

There are just too many playmakers for Utah to stop UCLA. The Bruins will score. If Utah is going to win this game, they'll need to take the ball out of Brett Hundley's hands by forcing multiple turnovers and giving their offense short fields.

Advtantage: UCLA

Intangibles
The Utes have owned the Bruins the last two times that UCLA has come to Salt Lake City, winning by a combined score of 75 to 12. Much of that can be attributed to the noise in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which has turned into one of the toughest places to play in the Pac 12.

The weather is starting to drop and will be very chilly by Los Angeles standards with an expected temperature of 50 by kickoff and the possibility of wind and rain. The uglier it is, the better for Utah.

Both teams have been night owls this season with the Utes playing 3 of their 4 games in the evening and the Bruins playing 2 of 3 under the lights.

Utah Wins If.....
Gorringe-Travis Wilson throws for 300+ yards and 3 TD's and if Utah wins the overall turnover margin.
Utah 34 UCLA 31

Karren-The turnover battle will be key. If they can force turnovers and don't give any away, they'll have a chance at the end. They'll also need to develop and sustain a run game throughout.
Utah 31 UCLA 30

Olson- Utah will win if they can slow down this UCLA offense that has torched each opponent it has faced this season. Currently averaging just a single punt per game, Utah cannot afford to let the Bruins maintain this sickening statistic. If the Utes can slow down the Bruins' offense and force some punts, then Travis Wilson and the offense should be able to take care of the rest.
UCLA 38 Utah 31

Swinney- Travis Wilson goes wild. It will take a monumental effort out of Wilson, but he can do it against this secondary. Utah will also need to win the turnover battle by at least 2.
UCLA 41 Utah 27

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