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Dragovic won’t be able to play

Times Staff Writer

UCLA will be without half of its starting defensive line this weekend, as defensive end Nikola Dragovic will sit out Saturday’s game against Utah because of a concussion.

Coach Karl Dorrell thought during the week that Dragovic would improve, and expected him to be cleared for practice Wednesday. But Dragovic could not shake persistent headaches and has not practiced all week.

He was injured on the kickoff return to open the second half against Brigham Young last Saturday. “Given our protocol for clearing players, he has not had 24 hours [of being symptom free],” Dorrell said.

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Defensive tackle Brigham Harwell was lost for at least four weeks after suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee against BYU.

Tom Blake will start at Dragovic’s defensive end spot. Dorrell said. Chinonso Anyanwu would play as well. The Bruins, who will take 86 players to Salt Lake City, will also have Fred Stokes and Jeff Miller available. Jess Ward will start at defensive tackle in place of Harwell.

Utah, which is 0-2 for the first time since 2000, will have to overcome the Bruins and numerous key injuries Saturday, but confidence does not seem to be a problem.

“We can beat them . . . they are beatable,” Utes’ linebacker Joe Jiannoni said. “We have that mind-set. They are a beatable team. Everybody has been hopped up in practice. There is definitely a different vibe going around, one that hasn’t been here the last two weeks. Maybe the losses are kicking in. Maybe we’re just bugged and realize it’s time to win.”

As for overcoming injuries, including the loss of Utah quarterback Brian Johnson, Jiannoni said, “someone goes down, somebody else has to pick up the rifle and start marching down the field.”

Besides Johnson (separated shoulder), the Utes have lost running back Matt Asiata (broken leg), receiver Brent Casteel (knee), receiver A.J. Reilly (knee) and offensive tackle Jason Boone (knee), tight end Colt Sampson (knee), defensive tackle Gabe Long (knee) and linebacker Matt Martinez (knee). All but Sampson were starters.

Dorrell dismissed questions about the altitude in Salt Lake City -- more than 4,300 feet -- being a problem for the Bruins.

“There is nothing you can do about altitude,” said Dorrell, who coached at Colorado and with the Denver Broncos. “I coached in altitude most of my career and there is nothing you can do other than keep hydrated and play.”

So will it have an affect?

“No,” Dorrell said.

The Bruins’ injury situation has improved somewhat.

Receiver Brandon Breazell (concussion, teeth) will play, despite having three root canals done this week. Cornerback Rodney Van (sprained ankle) will play, though he was not expected to start.

Dorrell said Alterraun Verner would start in Van’s spot.

Safety Bret Lockett (hamstring) will not play.

Fullback Michael Pitre is no closer to returning to the lineup. Pitre has been unable to play this season because of a bone bruise in his left knee. Quarterback Patrick Cowan (torn hamstring) will make the trip and suit up as the third quarterback. . . . The 11th-ranked Bruins are the highest-ranked team to play in Salt Lake City since Brigham Young came in ranked No. 8 in 1996.

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chris.foster@latimes.com


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