Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs UCLA Secondary
Good Travis this week or Bad Travis this week? If we're on the every other week setup that we've seen over the last month, it would be time for Bad Travis to emerge again. This game is going to be huge for Wilson in terms of his cementing his legacy at Utah. Without Booker, it's likely going to take a big performance out of the senior signal caller on Saturday for the Utes to be effective on offense, but the Booker injury may force the Utah offense to open things up and get a bit more creative which may play right into Wilson's wheelhouse. His receiving corps is what it is at this point. It's the Covey and Scott show with Singleton and Smith mixed in. Lots of quick balls has been the recipe and whether or not they deviate from that is the unknow, but you've got to expect Utah to get creative and test the UCLA secondary deep early in the game to help open things up for the run game. If there's one area that Wilson can realy hurt UCLA, it's with his legs. If he's efficient in scrambling for first downs, especially in 3rd down situations, something that UCLA is succeptible to, it'll really help break the spirit of the depleted UCLA defense and keep the chains moving.
UCLA's secondary has been been pretty good this season despite losing starting corner Fabian Moreua to an injury early in the season. They're giving up only 218 yards per game through the air (possibly a product of their run defense that has struggled), but that number may be a bit skewed by the number of penalties they commit. With 5 defensive backs on the field most of the time in their nickel package, there's a lot of speed, but they're a bit undersized. Corner Marcus Rios is probably the best of the bunch and has a team leading 6 pass breakups. Across from him is either going to be Johnny Johnson, who is questionable for the game, or freshman Denzel Fisher. Jaleel Wadood and Randall Goforth are big hitting safeties despite being undersized. Goforth is 4th on the team in tackles and has 2 interceptions while Wadood is sixth in tackles with 2 interceptions himself. Ishmal 'pass interference' Adams is UCLA's nickelback and also has two interceptions. The Bruins have picked off 12 passes as a team. These guys are good, but are succeptible to lapses and can be beat.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs UCLA Linebackers
No Devontae Booker could mean trouble for Utah. Thr senior back is out, so in steps Joe Williams who has only 19 carries on the season. Williams impressed with 37 yards on 7 carries last week, but this will be his first extended action, so we'll see how much he can hold up. Who gets the carries behind him is anybody's guess, but Bubba Poole is the most logical guy. The former running back had a lot of touches last week at receiver and Utah will probably use him in couple of different ways on Saturday. Harrison Handley has been a reliable target for Travis Wilson in recent weeks, and looks much more confident out there, but is still struggling with his blocking.
UCLA may get Isaako Savaiinaea back this week and that would be a big boost to a linebacking group that has been hurt by injuries, mainly to all everything backer Myles Jack. He's missed the last 3 games, but still has 49 tackles on the season and is an upper level linebacker. Jayon Brown is an undersized backer, but is a tackling machine and has good speed. Kenny Young is the type of linebacker that can line up on Booker and take him one on one, but struggles with speedier backs. Deon Hollins is used as a pass rusher and while he has only 2.5 sacks on the season, he's a terror off of the edge with his speed. The matchup between him and JJ Dielman will be a fun one. Aaron Wallace has a team leading 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. They're giving up 182 yards per game and have a tendency to give up the 7 to 12 yard runs that kill a defense. There's plenty of talent though and there is production, but it's been very much week to week. They'll be happy to see a Utah backfield void of Devontae Booker.
Utah Offensive Line vs UCLA Defensive Line
Utah's offensive line is coming off of a tougher week last week where Arizona had 5 sacks. They've often had issues with attacking defenses that bring pressure, but as a whole have been pretty good in pass protection. The run blocking continues to be average, and without Devontae Booker breaking tackles in the backfield, they could end up being exposed with Joe Williams in there instead.
UCLA runs a 3-4, but generally brings linebacker Deon Hollins up to the line as a pass rusher on most plays. Kenny Clark runs this D and is the big anchor in the middle. He's a future first round NFL pick and might be Gionni Paul's top competion for Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year award with a ridiculous 53 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 5 sacks on the season despite taking on double and triple teams. Takkarist McKinley has 4.5 sacks on the year and is Utah's best pass rusher from the line. Eli Ankou has stepped in for injuried Eddie Vanderdoes and has 5 tackles for loss on the season. He's a big dude at the DE/DT spot. The Bruins will rotate a lot outside of Clark on the line with Ainuu Taua, Matt Dickerson, and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner all getting a lot of reps. UCLA doesn't produce a lot of sacks with only 24 on the season.
Edge: Utah (slightly)
UCLA Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Utah Secondary
The Chosen One is starting to take off. True freshman Josh Rosen has had his ups and downs this season, but the last month has been filled with ups. He's thrown close to 200 passes without an interception and is now up to 18 touchdowns with only 7 picks on the season while throwing for 290 yards per game. Rosen has great touch, his pocket awareness is improving, and he throws well on the run when it's a designed rollout, but not when he scrmbling. That's when the freshman is prone to making a bad throw. A lot of that yardage he's picking up through the air is after the catch with the Bruins throwing a bunch of bubble screens or quick hitters to their receivers immediately after Rosen receivers that snap. His favorite target is big, phyiscal receiver Jordan Payton who has 64 catches at an average of 14.1 yards per catch. He's sure-handed and hard to bring down. Thomas Duarte is probably the receiver Utah should be most worried about. He does a great job of getting open on mid-ranged routes over the middle (an area Utah struggles with) and has 8 touchdowns on the year with 44 total catches. Devin Fuller's return gives the Bruins a quick option on their bubble screens and quick inside slant routes that they use a lot. Kenny Walker is a deep threat with bad hands, but if Rosen can find him deep, Walker can make a team pay. Darren Andrews is third on the team with 30 catches and has been involved in the offense a lot more in recent weeks. They use him on the quick hitters and in a variety of different ways. This is a good unit of receivers, btu they have been prone to the dropsies and don't have that reliable burner that scares the heck out of you. They do their job in a very workman-like way and are a good group of blockers.
It's turning into a patchwork secondary for the Utes as injuries have mounted. Reggie Porter shoud be back this week and Dominique Hatfield has looked like an all conference corner since his return from suspension, but the safety spot has been inconsistent. With Chase Hansen out again, Tevin Carter is going to have to find his groove that he seemed to have lost a few weeks ago. Marcus Williams has 4 interceptions and leads the team. He's again going to be on his own a lot in helping defend the deep ball, something UCLA likes to do quite a bit.
UCLA Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
Paul Perkins is one of the better running backs in the country and the defending Pac 12 rushing champion. He's a patient runner that has an uncanny ability to stop on a dime and cut-back, combined with deceptive speed. He's putting up 108 yards per game (6 per carry) on the ground with 10 touchdowns and also has 21 grabs. The Bruins also have a duo of backups that can do some damage as well in Nate Starks and Soso Jamabo. Starks is a power back that has struggled with injuries this season, but is still averaging 6.2 yards per carry and you'll see him in goal-line situations. Jamabo is a true freshman and looks like a future all american type. He's averaging 40 yards per game at 6.6 yards per carry and can be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, something they've tried to do more recently. As a team, the Bruins are averaging 198 yards per game rushing. UCLA doesn't use much of a natural tight end. Nate Iese is their closest thing to one and he's only got only 10 catches, but can be a weapon in 3rd and short or goal-line situations.
The Utah linebackers are coming off of a letdown week where Arizona was able to put up some decent yardage on the ground. Much of that came from the quarterbacks though, and UCLA doesn't present the same challenge with their one dimensional signal caller. Gionni Paul and Jared Norris are still the best linebacker duo in the conference, but they're facing a trio of backs that can beat you in a lot of different ways. Missed tackles in this game will turn into big gains, but Norris and Paul don't miss many of those. If they're wrapping up and have a bounceback week, the Utes should be able to keep the UCLA running game somewhat in check.
UCLA Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
UCLA has one of the better offensive lines in the conference with 4 returning starters from 2014 still remaining, but has battled the injury bug a bit this season which has hurt their depth. Left tackle Conner McDermmot is really good, has kept Rosen clean most of the year, and is a future NFLer. Alex Redmond is at left guard and is a solid blocker, but has had issues with penalties at times. Jake Brendel might be the best center in the conference and Caleb Benenoch is a third year starter. Kolton Miller has stepped in for Simon Goines as the starter at right tackle following an injury to Goines. He's been serviceable this season. The Bruins are doing a good job at times in the run game in opening up holes, but they've really excelled in pass protection with only 10 sacks given up. They are prone to penalties though...and a lot of them.
Utah's defensive line may have met it's match for the first time this season in UCLA for two reasons: 1) The UCLA offensive line is good. 2) Utah's defensive line is beat up physically. Hunter Dimick returns this week, or is supposed to, but has been largely ineffective this season. Jason Fanaika has been Utah's best and most consistent defensive lineman this season, and he'll have to be big in slowing the run game. The interior of Utah's line continues to be a stalwart with Seni Fauonuku having his best season as a Ute, as has Stevie Tu'ikolovatu. Lowell Lotulelei hasn't met high expectations, but has still been solid, while Filipo Mokofisi has battled injuries, but when healthy, has arguably been their best lineman inside. Kylie Fitts gets a crack at his old team this week and has been more than capable in filling in for Dimick. Pita Taumoepenu has disappeared in recent weeks, but is still a threat off of the edge. These guys are good, and despite not producing big numbers that often go to the linebackers instead, they're still elite and are going bring everything they have at the freshman Rosen to try to rattle him.
Edge: Utah (slightly)
Utah's special teams continue to be elite in the kicking game with Tom Hackett averaging 47.1 yards per punt and Andy Phillips now 18 of 22 on the season. They're the best punter-kicker duo in the conference. The Utes haven't had much out of the return game since the beginning of the season. Britain Covey is averaging 11.7 yards on punt returns and 24.5 on kick returns.
Want to see the worst punt game in the history of college football? Watch UCLA. Matt Mengel is averaging only 39.3 yards per punt and often can't put it over 35 yards. The Bruins have even run out wide receiver Kenny Walker to punt on occassion. That's how bad the situation has been with Mengel. Kicker Kaimi Fairbairn is a Lou Groza candidate, going 19 of 20 on the season with a long of 60. Yes, you read that right. 60 yards to end the first half against Cal. He's been clutch all year. The kick return game for UCLA hasn't produced much this season, but they should get a boost this week with Devin Fuller possibly returning. He's averaging 14.6 yards per punt return in only 9 tries along with 24.2 yards on kick returns. The Bruins don't give up anything in the punt return game with opponents averaging -.5 yards per return on only two returns, mainly because of the short punts out of Mengel. They have had problmes covering kickoffs though giving up an averag of 25.6 yards per return.