Utah will take on a balanced UCLA offense on Saturday in Rice-Eccles. Led by offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, the UCLA offense averages 35.2 points per game and averages 6.4 yards per play. On the road, UCLA leads the conference in scoring, averaging 42.3 points per game. The offense has outscored it's opponents by 100 points, 352-252. Let's take a look at some key players on UCLA's offense.
True freshman Josh Rosen won the starting quarterback position in the fall for UCLA and has not looked back. Rosen is having a great freshman season, having passed for 2903 yards, 18 touchdowns and completing 61.1% of his passes, with two regular season games remaining.
At 6-4 210 lbs. with good accuracy and arm strength, Rosen is primarily a pocket passer. He does not run the ball often, however he does have the athleticism to do so if needed. Against Washington State last weekend, Rosen scrambled for a 37 yard go ahead touchdown in the final minute. Despite being just a freshman, UCLA has relied heavily on Rosen’s ability and leadership this season. He has 380 pass attempts ranking 12th in the nation.
Much like Utah rides Devontae Booker, UCLA will rely heavily on their star junior running back, Paul Perkins. The 5-11 210 lb. running back is fourth in conference in yards per game, averaging 108.2. He has rushed for 1,082 yards on 180 carries, averaging an impressive 6.01 yards per carry. Perkins is still relatively fresh for this time of year as he has yet to hit the 200 carry mark, something the top three rushers Royce Freeman, Christian McCaffrey and Devontae Booker have all surpassed.
Spelling Perkins is mega talented freshman running back Soso Jamabo. At 6-3 210 lbs. Jamabo is a big back with speed. He averages 6.54 yards a carry on a little over 6 carries a game for 399 total rushing yards and four touchdowns this season.
Jordan Payton is a senior and the leader of the receiving group. Standing 6-1 and weighing 212 lbs. Payton has decent size to go with good speed. He leads the Bruins in both receptions with 64 and receiving yards with 904 yards. He has hauled in four touchdowns this season.
Junior receiver, Thomas Duarte is another favorite target of Rosen. Duarte is a big receiver, 6-3 225 lbs and has 44 receptions for 696 yards and eight touchdown receptions. Utah’s cornerbacks struggled defending Arizona’s big receivers last week, so it will be interesting to see if UCLA employs a similar strategy and targets Duarte early on Saturday.
Sophomore Darren Andrews (5-10, 185 lbs.) has 30 catches on the year with a touchdown, and senior Devin Fuller (6-0 200 lbs.) has 22 receptions for three touchdowns. Perkins will see occasionally see passes out of the backfield with 21 receptions and a receiving touchdown.
As a team, UCLA ranks third in the conference averaging 5.31 yards per rush and is fourth with 199.70 yards per game. Utah has a stingy run defense, best in conference, and held both Oregon and Arizona, the Pac-12‘s top two rushing offenses, to about a yard less than their average per carry. UCLA and Paul Perkins will also have an uphill battle against the Utah front seven, especially at Rice Eccles.
It’s the pass defense that will win or lose this game for Utah. UCLA ranks third in the Pac-12 in passing offense behind only Washington State and Cal which are both passing based offenses. Utah has struggled against good quarterbacks at times this season, allowing Jared Goff to throw for 340 yards and struggled with Cody Kessler, Jake Browning and Anu Solomon last week.
The defense’s ability to create momentum shifting turnovers will play a key role in Saturday’s game. Against both Cal and Washington, both games where the opposing quarterback played well, turnovers were the deciding factors. Goff’s five interceptions and Washington’s three fumbles and interception were the difference between winning and losing those games.
Rosen has a confidence not found in many freshman, and has fared well on the road so far in his young career. He does have nine interceptions, but six of them came in his first three games as a college player. In his last four games he has thrown for six touchdowns and no interceptions and run for a touchdown. The atmosphere at Rice-Eccles is sure to be electric, but Rosen is the type of freshman it might not affect. With Devontae Booker now out on offense, the defense will need to step up and make Rosen uncomfortable for Utah to win this game.