UCLA takes another step back in football

Reporting from Salt Lake City -- This had a familiar feel, a familiar look, a familiar sound.

UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel went around the locker room after the game cajoling Bruins’ players to “stay up, stay up, I need you next week.”

Defensive players were perplexed about being run over on the field.

The offensive solution was to “execute better,” which was an audio loop from player to player.

Walking away after a 31-6 loss to Utah on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Bruins could view this as a rerun. Call it déjà lose.


The Bruins had two euphoric weeks where they climbed to the top of the Pac-12 Conference South Division. But back-to-back victories over California and Arizona State led to another pratfall, not as bad as the 48-12 beating Arizona administered Oct. 20, but bad enough that the urgency was evident in Neuheisel’s voice.

“We can’t go backward,” Neuheisel said. “We can’t have penalties. We can’t miss open receivers. We have to play better. Until we do, we’re going to be at this level where we keep hanging. We have to kick through to become the team we’re capable of being.”

The Bruins retreated from controlling their own destiny in the division to scrambling to get one more victory to be bowl-eligible.

“We were super high on the mountaintop after beating Cal and Arizona State,” tight end Joseph Fauria said. “We can’t keep going up and down and up and down. We’ve got learn to be mature enough to hold that No. 1 spot.”

UCLA has two games left, against Colorado next Saturday and USC on Nov. 26.

“Winning out would show maturity,” Fauria said.

The Bruins were left with a painful memory on a cold night in Utah, where it was snowing at game time.

John White ran over an icy field, and the Bruins, for 171 yards, scoring two touchdowns rushing and another on a 13-yard pass. The Utes’ defense held UCLA to 295 total yards.

So Utah (6-4 overall, 3-4 in Pac-12) walked away bowl-eligible. UCLA (5-5, 4-3) trudged away to answer the same old questions.

“It’s frustrating,” wide receiver Ricky Marvray said. “We have these games this year that we lose, who knows the reason.”

Well, there was the run defense.

White churned and wiggled his way through a UCLA defense that gave up 224 yards rushing. It’s the sixth time this season that the Bruins have given up 200 or more yards on the ground.

White scored on runs of one and 22 yards. He had the ball on 34 of Utah’s 54 plays. His 13-yard touchdown reception gave Utah a 14-3 lead early in the third quarter. His 22-yard touchdown run, where he left safety Dalton Hilliard waving at air, made it 21-3.

“That dude is a hell of a back,” safety Tevin McDonald said. “When it looked like things were clogged up, he found a way to squirt through.”

The Utes wore the Bruins down in the second half.

“It took us too long to adjust,” linebacker Sean Westgate said. “They did a lot of new stuff, with a fullback in the backfield and three receivers. We hadn’t seen that before.”

Defensive coordinator Joe Tresey disagreed.

“We have seen it before,” Tresey said. “We just let them get outside us sometimes.”

Defensive end Datone Jones said, “Honestly, as a defense, we got off the field numerous times. I felt like the team didn’t execute.”

The UCLA offense contributed to the confusion with six false-start penalties. Kevin Prince also had two passes intercepted. Conroy Black returned the second 67 yards for a touchdown to give the Utes a 28-6 lead with nine minutes left.

“They have a unique style; they jump around on the defensive line,” said Prince, who completed 12 of 24 passes for 146 yards. “We’ve just got to execute better.”