Saturday's game against UCLA in the Rose Bowl looms large for the Utes, who are looking to stay atop the Pac-12 South standings. UteZone caught up with UCLA insider Blair Angulo to get his thoughts on the game.
1 - At first glance, it looks like the biggest factor in the outcome of this game will be Josh Rosen's ability to play. What is the latest on Rosen's availability and if he is able to go, what do you expect to see from him?
Coach Jim Mora wouldn't budge when asked Wednesday about Rosen's status heading into Saturday's game, but we did see Rosen on the practice field during the 20 minutes we're allowed to view so there is reason for optimism within the program. Mora said he would not know Rosen's availability until Saturday.
If the sophomore is ready to go, it would suggest that he's not limited throwing the football. He tried to warm up last week at Washington State, but television cameras caught him wincing in pain and grabbing at his ailing right shoulder. That would obviously be something to keep an eye on in the early going Saturday.
Rosen has been his own biggest critic this season, realizing he hasn't seen the field very well, forcing throws into tight coverages and struggling to find a go-to receiver after the departures of Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte and Devin Fuller. If he is limited physically, I would expect Rosen to try to take what the defense gives him on shorter routes and do his part to move the chains.
2 - The UCLA defense looks like it's been a bright spot in what has been a disappointing start to the season for the Bruins. What do they do exceptionally well and how do you expect them to attack the Utah offense?
You're right about the defense being the bright spot. It's a major reason why every game UCLA has lost this year has come down to the final possession.
The secondary is deep and experienced, leading UCLA to a No. 1 standing for pass defense efficiency among Pac-12 schools. Fabian Moreau is one of the better cover corners in the conference, safety Jaleel Wadood isn't afraid to creep toward the line of scrimmage and Adarius Pickett always seems to be around the football. Nate Meadors, the other starting corner, has missed the last two games with a groin injury but could return this week. Randall Goforth has been around forever and possesses the versatility to fill various roles for defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin.
In the trenches, edge rusher Takkarist McKinley and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes are worth noting. When they're in there together, UCLA is able to disrupt offenses without bringing added pressure (which coordinator Tom Bradley doesn't do often). Jayon Brown is the headliner among the linebackers, but that unit as a whole has been very up and down all year.
3 - The UCLA offense has been a bit schizophrenic this season. They struggled against BYU, Stanford and even ASU, but clearly have the talent to put up points in bunches as they did against Arizona and UNLV. What version of the UCLA offense do you expect to see this Saturday, and how do you expect them to attack the Utah defense?
We expect to see a not-so-good version. UCLA has not shown the ability to run the ball this year, averaging less than three yards per carry, and that probably won't change against one of the better defensive fronts in the conference.
Given that, we could probably expect UCLA to open up its playbook a bit or maybe even resort to some of the formations that worked under Noel Mazzone the last few years. The offensive line just isn't built to be a power type that Mora wanted, so it might be time to burn those boats and air it out.
4 - What does UCLA have to do to win this game in your mind? Conversely, what do the Utes have to do to pull off the win on the road?
The Bruins have to run the ball effectively or pass for over 500 yards to win this game. None of those seem likely at this point, so the defense might have to turn in its best showing of the year and score a touchdown or two.
The Utes, meanwhile, have to limit their mistakes and force UCLA into long drives. If they get out to an early lead and Rosen isn't at full strength, it could be another long day for the Bruins' offense.
5 - What's your prediction for the game, including the score?
This one is a much tougher call if Rosen is a full go. If he is, I have UCLA losing a tight one, 27-24. If it's former walk-on Mike Fafaul behind center, the Utes win more comfortably.
The formula won't change, though. Utah's defense is probably the best one UCLA has faced up to this point and it's difficult to envision the Bruins suddenly fixing their lengthy list of issues.