A 3-1 record isn't so bad when you think about it, right?
Utah is heading in to Pasadena Saturday night on the heels of what some would call, and I quote, "The worst loss in program history." While last Saturday's loss to Washington State was ugly in every way, it will not and can not have a lingering affect against the Bruins. Although, Saturday's match-up may seem insurmountable, Utah is not as bad as they showed last weekend. On the flip side, UCLA is not as good as they were against ASU. Contrary to popular opinion, the Utes do match-up well with UC Los Angeles, and there are things they can do to make this a tightly contested game. Here are some things to look for this Saturday night.
Travis Wilson has got to get his offense into a groove. Utah has the tools to put up points in this league, and this week is a great opportunity to do that. While the Bruin defense appeared to frustrate and confuse the Sun Devils, they still gave up 626 total yards to the ASU offense that was playing their second string QB. While the Bruins are good up front and great at the LB positions, they are extremely vulnerable on the outside. Wilson has got to make good decisions and make them pay when they make a mistake. If Utah can make a few explosive plays, this game is going to open up for the Utes. Now starting running back Devontae Booker has also got to get going. Now that he has solidified himself as the number one guy, he needs to run with a purpose. In the first four weeks of the season, teams have had success running the football against UCLA. If DB-23 can get going, Utah will have a very goodnight in Pasadena.
Hold on to the Ball
This Bruin defense is opportunistic, athletic and talented at every position. With that being said, they are giving up a lot of yards. They are great at creating turnovers, and they are very good at capitalizing on those mistakes. Pick sixes are a staple of this defense, and Wilson is going to have to toe the line of going for big plays and taking what the defense gives him.
Pressure, Pressure, and more Pressure
Utah's defense has been fantastic to this point. I know, two fourth down conversions last week for WSU that resulted in points killed them. Outside of that they were great, and to their credit they were on the field for a looooong time.UCLA QB Brett Hundley has shown the propensity to make mistakes under pressure, and Utah has excelled in applying pressure. UCLA has also struggled to run the ball due to their young injury riddled O-line, and this plays into what Kalani Sitake will want to do - stop the run, pressure the QB and limit big plays. UCLA's offense benefited from a young and undisciplined defense last week, that is not what they will see against Utah. Utah's defense will have need to emphasize 3rd down, because Hundley has been his best at sustaining drives when it matters on 3rd down. Utah's defensive success will also be judged by how many 3-and-out's they can create. Frustrating and keeping this UCLA offense, namely Hundley, off the field is key.
The Most Special of Teams
Kaelin "Cassius" Clay currently has four returns for a TD in four weeks. He will need to have good-to-great returns on Saturday. Giving his offense good field position will go a long way to easing up the pressure that will be placed on Wilson and company to get into the endzone.
Phillips and Hackett need to keep rolling in the kicking game. These guys are truly the dynamic duo, with Hackett pinning them deep, and Phillips scoring on every opportunity he gets. Utah will have the advantage in this position every week, and they will need it in Pasadena.
Ute Nation's emotions are a mixed bag at the moment. While I understand the frustration, there is still plenty to play for and plenty of time to make an impression on the college football world. I once heard that it's not about how many times you've been knocked down, but how many times you get up. While the WSU game was one of those moments that this Utah team was knocked down, they are very far from being out.
Give a listen to this weeks The U Fan Cast, where we chat about the loss to WSU, and what that means going into UCLA. Including our predictions for what will happen in the matchup with the Bruins.