UCLA expects a physical matchup against Utah

Eddie Vanderdoes, D.J. Foster
UCLA defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes (47) and teammates force Arizona State running back D.J. Foster to fumble during last week’s game.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

UCLA players know that facing Utah means one thing.

“It’s going to be a blood bath,” said Bruins defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes. “They have a bunch of monsters up front. The last two years, they have been real big and physical.”

The Bruins escaped with seven-point victories over the Utes the last two seasons. They earned them, and expect this season to be no different when the teams play at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

Utah averages 192.2 yards rushing per game, running behind an offensive line that averages 311 pounds. On defense, the Utes average 4.5 sacks per game, tying them for fifth nationally among the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

It’s a test up front on both sides of the ball.

“They are hungry and physical,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “They have lots of [junior college] guys. I played JuCo ball. It’s like a different level of humility when you’re starting down at JuCo ball. It’s like triple A and you’ve finally made it to the majors.”

Utah has allowed only eight sacks in four games. UCLA has had only four sacks in four games.

“You love this opportunity; you want to prove yourself in this type of game,” Ulbrich said. “They play with a chip on their shoulder. We pride ourselves on being physical as well.”

On the other side of the ball, the Utes have put stress on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive lineman Nate Orchard is tied for 10th nationally with 4.5 sacks this season. Linebacker Jared Norris and defensive end Jason Fanaika both have three.

The Bruins have struggled with pass protection at times this season, but allowed only one sack against Arizona State last Thursday.

“They have that ‘R-H’ factor, run and hit,” said UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. “This is a big challenge for our backs, for our line, and for [quarterback] Brett [Hundley]. We got to get the ball out quickly at times. It’s going to be an interesting night.”

It will help the Bruins if they continue their success on the ground. They gained 217 yards rushing against Texas and 225 against Arizona State.

Center Jake Brendel was looking forward to the game.

“Utah always bring a physical game,” Brendel said. “We have to make sure they know we’re physical also.”

Finishing kick

UCLA has a 20-0 record when leading at halftime under Coach Jim Mora.

His response was as expected: “That’s good. I like that,” he said.

It’s an impressive stat.

“I always said halftime adjustments are overrated, because you make them throughout the course of the game after every series,” Mora said.

But, he said, there is a difference at halftime.

“Halftime gives you a chance to draw it up on the board, have the players take a breath and really absorb what you’re trying to tell them,” Mora said. “Coaches and players come together in a less chaotic environment and think about what the adjustment is, and why we’re doing it.”

UCLA has outscored opponents, 522-362, in the second half during Mora’s 31 games. The Bruins have been outscored in the second half seven times in that time.

Orjioke out

UCLA linebacker Kenny Orjioke will be sidelined the rest of the season because of a knee injury suffered in the game against Arizona State.

Orjioke, who underwent surgery Tuesday to determine the extent of the damage, has a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Orjioke, a junior, was part of the Bruins’ linebacker rotation. He was also one of the team’s top special teams players.

He is eligible to petition to gain the year of eligibility back as a medical redshirt.


Twitter: @cfosterlatimes