Utah’s defensive unit has been nothing short of dominant this season, allowing an average of 12.2 points per game, along with 246.6 yards of total offense allowed on average. Where they’ve played their best, however, is in the trenches, allowing a mere 56.3 yards on the ground as they prove their worth as the best rush defense in the nation, allowing 10.2 fewer yards on average than second place San Diego State, and 18.5 yards fewer than the vaunted Penn State defensive front. This may change Saturday night.
Despite the heaps of praise and attention Utah’s leading rusher has received in 2019, it’s UCLA’s senior running back, Joshua Kelley (5’11”, 219 lbs) who is the PAC-12’s leading rusher. Averaging 107.6 yards per game, compared to Moss’s 103.5, Kelly has proven to be the key to the Bruins’ success, racking up 90+ yards in each of their four wins this season, including a 176 yard performance against Stanford on 10/17 where he rushed for 9.8 yards per carry, and a four touchdown game against the then 24th ranked Sun Devils on 10/26 where he added 164 more yards to his impressive resume.
For as impressive as Kelley has been for the Bruins, he won’t be able to overcome Utah’s stout defense alone, which means sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson will need to string together a strong performance. The 6’1”, 197 lbs. wunderkind started for the Bruins as a true freshman in 2018 but has struggled to live up to the hype surrounding the young star, completing just 57.7% of his passes in his debut season, though his numbers have improved in 2019, bumping his completion percentage to 60.5% with a 17:8 touchdown to interception ratio. His mobility has become an advantage for the Bruins, gaining 194 yards on the ground to compliment is 1,837 passing yards, however as one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the conference (20), his offensive line hasn’t done him many favors.
Downfield, junior Demetirc Felton (5’9”, 185 lbs.) and redshirt freshman Kyle Philips (5’11”, 181 lbs.) will be forced to contend with Utah’s tall, speedy secondary as the teams leading receivers. Felton, a slot receiver who also has 331 yards on the ground through 75 carries is a shifty Swiss army knife who can rotate in for Kelley when needed, while Philips’ five touchdowns lead all receivers, making him a dangerous red zone threat.
With Utah’s chances of securing a minimum of a Rose Bowl bid increasing, the Utes can’t afford to overlook any opponent, especially a surging Bruins squad who can and will score with ease when they’re firing on all cylinders.