UCLA Sports

UCLA-Utah: Here’s how they match up

Joe Williams
Utah running back Joe Williams hops into the end zone for a touchdown in the first half against Oregon State on Oct. 15.
(Timothy J. Gonzalez / Associated Press)

Utah (6-1) at UCLA (3-4) at the Rose Bowl. TV: Fox, 1 p.m.

Most intriguing story line: The now-or-never vibe around UCLA this week has been unusual for a midseason game. The Bruins never had a sub-.500 record this far into a season under Coach Jim Mora until suffering their third defeat in four games last week against Washington State. Another setback this week would leave them facing the strong possibility of a losing season.

UCLA pass offense vs. Utah pass defense: Josh Rosen was back at practice Wednesday, about the best possible development for the Bruins amid a season veering uncomfortably close to ruin. Even if Rosen is not able to return from the lower body and shoulder-area injuries that sidelined him against Washington State, UCLA has to feel much better about its passing game than it did a week ago.

Backup Mike Fafaul was strong in the second half against the Cougars, throwing three touchdown passes as part of a late-game rally. But drops among UCLA receivers continue to be as prevalent as the pretty views from inside the Rose Bowl. Utah’s pass defense has yielded 211 yards per game, seventh in the Pac-12 Conference. EDGE: UCLA.


UCLA run offense vs. Utah run defense: Whatever changes are coming to the Bruins’ running game can’t arrive fast enough. They have been running the wrong kind of reverse—backward statistically—for the last five weeks. UCLA ranks No. 126 out of 128 major college teams in rushing yardage per game (91.1) and yards per carry (2.81).

Offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu indicated that freshmen Brandon Stephens and Jalen Starks could return to the tailback rotation after having been nonentities since a victory over Brigham Young on Sept. 17. The Bruins would do well just to match the 130 yards rushing per game that Utah has allowed, which ranks No. 27 in the nation. EDGE: Utah.

Utah pass offense vs. UCLA pass defense: Troy Williams is regarded as a dual-threat quarterback, but he struggled both running and passing last week against Oregon State. He completed four of 13 passes for 42 yards and rushed for 40 yards.


Utah’s offensive line should serve as a reminder to UCLA that things could be worse; injuries have forced the Utes to use fourth-string center Nick Nowakowski the last two games. It’s probably no coincidence that Utah had nine false starts in the first half of Nowakowski’s first game, though they reduced that number to two last week against the Beavers. EDGE: UCLA.

Utah run offense vs. UCLA run defense: If tailback Joe Williams can come out of retirement for the Utes, some Bruins fans might wonder whether they can summon Gaston Green. Williams’ comeback sounds like the stuff of a Disney script: Player who leaves his team returns after a rash of injuries to his teammates, rushing for a season-best 179 yards and a touchdown against Oregon State. Utah may seek a repeat performance because tailbacks Zack Moss and Troy McCormack, who have each missed the last two games, remain questionable to play against the Bruins. EDGE: UCLA.

Special teams: Mora recently reopened competition in the kicking game after the prolonged struggles of freshman J.J. Molson, who actually had a better week than Austin Kent in the wake of a punt that went for minus one yard. Utah might possess the best kicking game in the Pac-12 between Mitch Wishnowsky, who is averaging 49.1 yards per punt, and kicker Andy Phillips, who has made 10 of 12 field goals. EDGE: Utah.

Ben Bolch’s pick: UCLA opened as seven-point favorites despite being two games behind Utah in the Pac-12 South Division because this is a good matchup for the Bruins, especially if Rosen returns. It’s also the kind of game UCLA needs to revive a season on the verge of flat-lining. Here’s betting the Bruins get it done. UCLA 31, Utah 24

Twitter: @latbbolch

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