UCLA edges Utah, 34-27, thanks to six interceptions
UCLA finally broke its jinx in the state of Utah with a hard-fought 34-27 win over the University of Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Was it easy?
Well, um, no.
UCLA had a 10-point lead and nearly blew it.
It came down to one last play and one last interception.
Down by seven, facing fourth and 10 at the UCLA 23, Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was intercepted by freshman Myles Jack with 16 seconds left.
No. 12 UCLA (4-0) was able to take a knee and get out of Utah with its first Pac 12 Conference win.
It was Wilson’s sixth interception of the game.
Utah kicker Andy Phillips had cut the lead to three when he banked a field goal off the left upright with 2:04 left.
Utah then got the ball back with an onsides kick that took the officials several minutes to sort out.
Shaq Evans had the ball stripped as he was sliding down with the recovery. Sean Fitzgerald recovered for the Utes.
The officials ruled Utah recovered it initially so it was going to be a tough play to overturn.
After a lengthy review, the officials upheld the ruling and that led to a hair-raising finish.
As they say, though, a win is a win is a win. UCLA improves to 1-0 in the Pac-12 South while Utah falls to 3-2 and 0-2.
UCLA had been outscored 134-12 in its last three trips to the state. The Bruins had not scored a touchdown in Utah since a game against Brigham Young in 1995.
The Bruins didn’t play a great game but this was a far cry from its face-plant in 2007.
UCLA was ranked No. 11 that season when Karl Dorrell’s Bruins came to Rice-Eccles and left a 44-6 loser.
This UCLA team showed more maturity in the face of adversity, and there was plenty of it.
Bruins sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley completed 17 of 27 passes for 211 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also had a receiving touchdown and finished with 85 yards on 20 carries.
Wilson passed for 288 yards and two touchdowns but his six interceptions were too much for Utah to overcome.
UCLA 34, Utah 24 (3:33 left in fourth quarter)
Anthony Jefferson did it again, picking off a pass by Utah’s Travis Wilson for the second time.
It was a huge play as UCLA tried to protect a three-point lead.
It was the fifth pass by Wilson, a sophomore from San Clemente High, that the Bruins have picked off tonight.
UCLA took over at the Utah 40 and it didn’t take long before a brilliant 36-yard touchdown run by Hundley put the Bruins up by 10 points.
The Fox announcers were right in saying uptempo offenses have a tough time running out the clock with a lead but it helps when your defense intercepts the opposing quarterback’s passes five times.
Injury update: Receiver Shaq Evans grabbed his right knee at the 5:12 mark and hobbled off.
UCLA is starting to pile up some injuries as Evans joins tackle Torian White and running back Jordon James.
UCLA 27, Utah 24 (6:36 left in fourth quarter)
Ka’imi Fairbairn put UCLA back ahead with a 47-yard field goal.
Call this a sign of leadership and maturity.
Brett Hundley just threw the worst pass he’s thrown as a Bruin but he calmly took his team right back down the field. UCLA got the ball back at its own 23 and methodically marched 47 yards in 12 plays.
Hundley made another big mistake when he was called for intentional grounding on second and six at the Utah 23.
It looked like it would take UCLA out of field-goal range, but Hundley then made a brilliant 14-yard scramble to get Fairbairn inside of 50 yards for the important attempt.
UCLA then made a big stop and forced a Utah punt with 6:36 left.
Can the Bruins hold on?
UCLA 24, Utah 24 (11:00 left in fourth quarter)
I think that’s what you call a “turning point.”
Pinned near his own end zone, and scrambling aimlessly out of the pocket, Brett Hundley did what coaches tell you never to do.
He threw weakly across the field into the right flat. Utah’s Keith McGill stepped in front of the pass and returned it 19 yards of the tying touchdown with 13:23 left.
It was a very un-Heisman like throw from Hundley, but there is plenty of time for him to make amends.
The offensive production has slowed to a crawl. Utah passed UCLA in total yards, 315 to 291.
UCLA 24, Utah 17 (end of third quarter)
The third quarter proved that, when all else fails, the Pac-12 Conference can produce occasional spurts of defense.
It just took more than a half to figure it out.
The first half produced 35 points and 500 yards but the third quarter was more like three yards and a cloud of rubber pellets.
The quarter produced one lousy field goal.
Things settled down and frankly we all needed the rest.
After UCLA took a 24-17 lead, the Bruins’ defense forced a punt when Keenan Graham sacked Wilson for a five-yard loss on third down.
Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley appears fine after missing a series because of an issue with his head. Trainers did sideline tests that appeared to be checking him for concussion symptoms but obviously he was deemed well enough to return.
Utah converted a big fourth-and-one play in its own territory but that was followed by UCLA intercepting a fourth Wilson pass for the night. Linebacker Erick Kendricks got No. 4 off another deflection.
Wilson had only three interceptions in four previous games.
UCLA couldn’t take advantage, though, and had to punt it back.
Compared to the first half, the third quarter was boring.
UCLA 24, Utah 17 (early third quarter)
What a weird sequence of third-quarter plays.
Is this how a season turns?
UCLA cornerback Ishmael Adams made a terrific, juggling interception of a Travis Wilson pass at the 12:42 mark.
It looked at first as if the ball had to have touched the ground but replay confirmed Adams cradled it between his arm and the ground.
UCLA had the ball at its own 43 but Brett Hundley called timeout at the 12:12 mark and left the game.
Trainers appeared to be looking at Hundley’s face and head.
It forced backup Jerry Neuheisel into the game and suddenly a botched center exchange led to a 27-yard loss and a punt.
UCLA thought it got the ball back on an interception by Anthony Jefferson, but the officials called pass interference even though the ball was clearly tipped out of Wilson’s hand by Myles Jack.
In that case, there is no pass interference.
Remember, though, these are Pac 12 officials!
UCLA Coach Jim Mora was forced to call timeout and challenge the call.
Mora was proved correct and UCLA did not lose a time out.
UCLA took over at the Utah 48.
And Hundley was back behind center.
The drive stalled but Ka’imi Fairbairn kicked at 33-yard field goal.
Yeah, it was strange.
UCLA 21, Utah 17 (halftime)
Whew, deep breath, what a first half.
The schools have already combined for 500 total yards.
UCLA has 271 yards while Utah has 229.
UCLA isn’t doing a Heisman Trophy campaign for Hundley but he may get to New York on his own after a half in which he completed 12 of 15 passes for 175 yards. Hundley has a touchdown pass and a receiving touchdown.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has kept pace with Hundley, completing 11 of 17 passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Penalties continue to plague UCLA but so far it hasn’t cost the Bruins any wins yet this year.
UCLA had eight penalties for 65 yards in the first half.
UCLA entered the game ranked No. 121 nationally in penalties with an average of 10 a game.
Only Southern Methodist and Washington are worse in this week’s NCAA stats.
SMU averages 10.50 a game while Washington is last at 10.75.
UCLA 21, Utah 17 (late second quarter)
Andy Phillips kicked a 44-yard field goal to cut the UCLA lead to four points.
Everywhere you look in this game there’s a compelling story.
Phillips is a walk-on who was a former member of the U.S. Ski team. Phillips had never kicked in a game before this season.
He is now made all eight field-goal attempts this year and is 23 for 23 on extra points.
Both schools have deep ties to Nick Pasquale, the young UCLA receiver killed a few weeks ago.
UCLA is wearing No. 36 patches in his honor but Utah quarterback Travis Wilson was Pasquale’s best friend at San Clemente High.
Wilson flew to California for Pasquale’s funeral the day after Utah lost a heart-breaking overtime game to Oregon State in Salt Lake City.
UCLA 21, Utah 14 (midway through second quarter)
Remember Randall Goforth, who almost had a pick six on Utah’s second touchdown pass?
He picked Wilson for real, on a tipped pass, with 11:02 left in the second quarter and raced all the way to the end zone. The touchdown was nullified by a penalty but UCLA got the ball at its own 37.
That led to UCLA’s go-ahead touchdown on a 17-yard scoring pass from Hundley to Jordan Payton.
Youth has been served. UCLA is playing two freshmen on the right side of the offensive line: Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch.
UCLA 14, Utah 14 (early second quarter)
How about that?
Wide receiver Devin Fuller, whose mother is a backup singer in Bruce Springsteen’s band, threw a seven-yard pass to Hundley as the Bruins fooled Utah with a trick play.
Fuller is from Norwood, NJ. Springstten, of course, grew up in Freehold.
Great play call there by UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and good execution by the Bruins.
UCLA tackle Torian White was injured early in the drive. It appeared to be his right ankle and White was taken off the field on a cart.
The Bruins had to move freshman Caleb Benonoch to White’s right tackle position but he did a good job on the Bruins’ scoring drive.
Utah 14, UCLA 7 (end of first quarter)
Uh, this could be high scoring.
Travis Wilson now has thrown two touchdown passes after hitting Sean Fitzgerald on a six-yard pass with 58 seconds left in the first quarter.
Missed it by that much. UCLA Randall Goforth nearly stepped in front of the pass and returned it for a pick six.
Your move, UCLA.
It should be said here that has Utah gotten a big lift from co-coordinator Dennis Erickson, who came out of retirement to help young coach Brian Johnson with the offense.
Erickson last coached at Arizona State, but, of course, led Miami to two national titles and also coached at Oregon State, Idaho and Washington State. Erickson was also a head coach in the NFL with Seattle and San Francisco.
There is probably no bigger birth date gap for coordinators in any sport.
Erickson was born March 24, 1947.
Johnson was born Feb. 16, 1987.
UCLA 7, Utah 7 (midway through first quarter)
Well, that early lead did not last long. Utah answered by scoring on its first drive with a 54-yard pass play from Travis Wilson to Dres Anderson.
Name ring a bell?
Anderson is the son of former UCLA and L.A. Rams receiver Flipper Anderson.
Dad doesn’t have to worry (probably) about his son exceeding his single-game NFL yardage record.
That’s right, Flipper set the NFL record with 336 yards against the New Orleans Saints in 1989.
Blogger note: I was the Rams’ beat writer at the time and saw Flipper set the record with this incredible feat in the Superdome.
UCLA 7, Utah 0 (early first quarter)
Breaking: UCLA has scored its first touchdown in the state of Utah since 1995 at Brigham Young. That one came on a 30-yard run by Derek Ayers.
This one was not as easy. Brett Hundley thought he had scored on first and goal but was ruled down at the one after a look at instant replay. Then Jordon James came up short followed by another no gain by Hundley.
James finally pushed it home on fourth down to give UCLA the early lead.
It was James’ fifth rushing touchdown of the season.
The score was set up by a nifty 44-yard catch and run by Paul Perkins to the Utah one.
UCLA had been outscored 134-12 in its three most recent trips to Utah. Two of the losses were to Utah and one was to BYU.
UCLA is back in Rice-Eccles Stadium, a key road stop in the firing of the Bruins’ two previous coaches.
Karl Dorrell lost here in 2007. Rick Neuheisel lost here in 2011.
The Utes’ crowd is planning a “blackout” for a national television audience, though all but the nightowls on the East Coast will miss it. The crowd was a factor in UCLA’s two previous games here. The Bruins are adamant that won’t be a problem tonight.
“We overcome obstacles,” quarterback Brett Hundley said. “The crowd is going to be really loud. We just have to settle in and get down to the game. The Nebraska crowd was really loud. I think that set us up for any crowd we go against.”
UCLA defeated Nebraska, 41-21, earlier this season in front of 91,471 mostly stunned fans.
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