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Bruins can't catch Utes on last leg

Bruins can't catch Utes on last leg
UCLA kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn stares at the ground after missing a 50-yard field goal on the final play of the game Saturday against Utah. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Finally, UCLA can be talked about in the same category as Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

It's a conversation the Bruins would rather not be a part of this morning.

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All were top-10 teams that lost this week.

An elite place in the college football world seemed to be laid at the Bruins' feet Saturday. Top-ranked teams were dropping left and right, putting No. 8 UCLA in a position to make a significant jump in the polls.

Instead, the Bruins joined the fallen. Utah crashed that party, with 30-28 victory in the Rose Bowl that will leave people scratching their heads looking at the Pac-12 standings. Unranked (but not for long) Arizona is the only undefeated team in the conference.

After trailing most of the night, UCLA tried to salvage the situation. Quarterback Brett Hundley tossed two long touchdown passes in fourth quarter for a 28-27 lead. All that did was make drive home more gut-wrenching for UCLA fans.

Utah (4-1 overall, 1-1 in Pac-12) worked four minutes off the clock, mostly through the running of Devontae Booker. Andy Phillips  chipped home a 29-yard field goal with 34 seconds left.

The Utes had to sweat out two long field goal attempts by Ka'imi Fairbairn, one from 55 yards and the other from 50, after a penalty for running into the kickery.

When the second kick sailed just wide right, the Bruins were left to ponder what might have been. It was a volatile day around the top 10, with No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 6 Texas A&M losing. Oregon, ranked second, lost to Arizona on Thursday.

UCLA could have found profit in the upheaval. Instead, the Bruins were added to the causality list.

"There were a lot of big opportunities for us," Hundley said. "We've got to learn from this."

Everyone has to, Coach Jim Mora said.

"We all bear responsibility for that loss," Mora said. "Every coach, every single player. We all could have done a better job to win tonight."

The Bruins (4-1, 1-1) could have assumed front-runner status. Instead, they were left to sort out issues before playing Oregon next Saturday.

"We definitely didn't take the opportunity and run with it," receiver Jordan Payton said. "We should have."

Playing Utah had a lot to do with that. The Utes are like a trip to the dentist, but not for that regular teeth cleaning. UCLA knew that going in, having struggled with Utah since the Utes joined the Pac-12 for the 2011 season.

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The Bruins have lost once and survived for seven-point victories twice in three games against Utah. The Utes came into this one with a clear agenda – get to Hundley.

The Bruins had success on the ground. Paul Perkins had 99 yards rushing and Jordon James 50, but the Utes were hardly concerned with UCLA's running backs. They focused on making Hundley's evening chaotic.

"The offense wasn't in rhythm at the start of the game," Hundley said. "Then we made a charge."

Hundley threw for 269 yards. He tossed a 93-yard touchdown pass to Devin Fuller and a 40-yard touchdown pass to Eldridge Massington, giving UCLA the lead, 28-27, with  five minutes left.

But Hundley was also sacked 10 times_three on a three-and-out possession in the fourth quarter.

UCLA finished with 406 total yards but never showed offensive consistency.

"Utah played extremely physical and aggressive," Payton said. "They just got to us a lot with pressure."

Utah, meanwhile, chewed up real estate. Booker finished with 156 yards rushing, as the Utes had 242 of their 342 yards on the ground. The Utes stayed mostly on the ground on their winning drive, with Booker getting 40 yards.

"At the end there, a great defense has to make a stop," UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said. "We knew run, we didn't wrap up."

The Bruins looked anything but a title contender through the first half. Utah was more physical and more opportunistic and had a 17-7 lead at the half after Andy Phillips kicked a 49-yard field goal with two seconds left.

The Utes went three-and-out on their first four series, yet were leading, 7-0. The defense had a lot to do with it, sacking Hundley five times in the first half.

Hundley flipped a screen pass to Perkins but failed to see defensive back Tevin Carter lurking. Carter picked off the pass and raced 27 yards for a touchdown, giving the Utes the lead with 5 minutes 51 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Utes changed quarterbacks, which put some life into the offense. Kendal Thompson, who replaced Travis Wilson, completed all seven of his passes in the first half.  He found Dres Anderson flying past cornerback Fabien Moreau in the second quarter. Anderson made a leaping catch in the end zone for a 14-0 lead  with 10:28 left in the first half.

The Bruins shook the cobwebs loose behind Perkins. He gained 60 yards on an 82-yard drive, including a 22-yard cut-and-run gain to the four-yard line. Perkins scored on the next play.

Perkins had 87 yards rushing in the first half.  The rest of the UCLA offense had 64 yards.

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