Five things we learned about UCLA in its loss to Utah

Five things we learned about UCLA in its loss to Utah
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley scrambles away from Utah's Sese Ianu during the first half Saturday at the Rose Bowl. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Generally, this is a weekly feature written after UCLA games that highlights the main takeaways — what we learned, if you will. This is usually written semi-coherently, with the main points listed in number form.

This game was not coherent. This game was ridiculous, to the point where I don't know if we actually learned anything concrete. We witnessed things that we can analyze, but I think this game was too odd to draw any sort of permanent, definitive conclusions.


So, instead of a numbered list of things we learned, here is an assortment of observations and questions of things that we witnessed:

What was UCLA doing at the end of the game?

Let's not blame this loss on kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn. Should he be able to make a 50-yard field goal? Yes. Without question, yes. He's missed big field goals in the past, and the narrative was that he was a young kicker who would learn from his mishaps to eventually flourish in big moments like this. Fairbairn is now a junior. He's no longer young. This is a field goal he needs to make.

At the same time, what has Fairbairn done in the past to give Coach Jim Mora the confidence to trot his kicker out there for a 55-yard field goal? The only reason UCLA had another chance from 50 yards is because Utah ran into Fairbairn after he missed the first attempt badly. Badly, badly. Not anywhere close. The second attempt was five yards closer, but not much better.

This situation presented itself after Brett Hundley found Devin Fuller for a five-yard gain to get to the 37-yard line. The Bruins had time for only one more play. That call should have been a pass to the end zone, not a 55-yard field goal attempt. We've seen how explosive this UCLA offense can be. Utah's defensive line destroyed UCLA, but its secondary was relatively harmless.

Fairbairn should never have been in that spot. He was never going to make that kick. His career long is 48 yards, and that wasn't with the game on the line.

A 37-yard Hail Mary to win the game wasn't likely, but it was more likely than that field goal going through the uprights.

The defense

Utah brought in their backup quarterback, Kendal Thompson, in the first quarter. Thompson is fast, quick, and athletic, but he doesn't seem to ever throw the ball more than 20 yards. He's run first without a strong arm. No real surprises.

He finished the game with only 95 yards passing, but added 83 on the ground. As a whole, the Utes rushed for 242 yards.

Here's how the drive chart looks on their last drive of the game, the one where they kicked the go-ahead field goal:

Run for six yards. Run for 13 yards. Run for 18 yards. Run for one yard. Run for five yards. Run for 15 yards. Run for three yards. Run for three yards. Run for a loss of one yard. Twenty-nine-yard field goal to take a 30-28 lead.

Frankly, that's embarrassing for UCLA's defense. There was never any doubt about whether Utah was running. UCLA knew what was coming and still couldn't stop it.

With that in mind, read these two quotes from defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich after the game.


"It wasn't the scheme. It was just ... we have to make a play. ... There at the end, great defenses have to stop the run when you know they're going to run. We knew they were going to run, and we didn't. I always put it on my shoulders. I can try to get them into a better call, but at the end of the day, we need to stop them. That's what it comes down to."

"We're in the right call. I can mix it up I guess a little bit more for them, but we have to bow up, man. We got the guys who can get this done. I'm confident in that, that we have the right guys. We have to become the defense we're capable of becoming, and that's not the way you finish a game if you want to be great."

Ulbrich has been quick to point the finger inward this season, which is fair. It's his first year as a defensive coordinator, and he still isn't calling as many linebacker blitzes as he should.

But that is not pointing the finger inward. That's essentially saying that at some point, this defense is going to have to step up on their own. He's saying that there's only so much he can do.

And though he's not wrong, that's still a little troubling. That means you're counting on a unit that has taken a beating over the first month of the season to somehow come together and figure it all out. Individual players have had excellent games, but have then disappeared in others.

Last night, Ishmael Adams had a long kickoff return that was called back because of a penalty and was otherwise absent after the best game of his career last week. Fabian Moreau continues to be burned. Eric Kendricks was completely flummoxed by Thompson on multiple occasions.

If Ulbrich is pointing to his players, then who is going to step up?

The Paul Perkins situation

When Hundley is getting hit as much as he did Saturday night, taking an incredible 10 sacks, UCLA's best offensive weapon is Paul Perkins. He ran for 87 yards and a touchdown in 15 carries in the first half, scoring the team's only points of the stanza and almost single-handedly leading the charge on the scoring drive. He looked really, really good.

He then didn't see the field in the third quarter, and carried the ball only twice in the fourth. After the game, Perkins said that he felt sick all day, and while he was able to fight it in the first half, he had to take himself out in the second.

Perkins wasn't able to say what exactly the illness was, and also didn't bring up the play where he limped off the field in the first half.

Regardless of why he was out, UCLA could have used him in the third quarter.

The offensive line

Mora and the Bruins can say all they want about sacks being a collective issue, and that they shouldn't be blamed on just the offensive line, but 10 sacks is abhorrent. Taking three sacks in three plays is miserable.

The Bruins don't exactly have five future NFL players up front, but offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has a base salary of $650,000 this year. If he's getting paid like one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, 10 sacks can't happen again.

The end result of this whole debacle actually isn't terrible

Former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel told reporters in August that he was worried about a one-loss Pac-12 team not qualifying for the four-team College Football Playoff.

Through a month of the season, it looks like one loss might not be that big of a deal, just because everyone is losing. This weekend, the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 teams in the rankings all lost. Through four games, there are just five undefeated teams. I would be willing to bet that at least four of those teams lose at least one game.

So, a one-loss Pac-12 team will likely qualify for the playoff. UCLA could run the table and earn a spot. This loss isn't entirely damning.

It's not good, mind you. It's not good at all. No offense to Salt Lake City, but Utah celebrated on the field like a team that knew it stole a win from a more talented opponent. The Bruins had ample opportunity to win this game, and should still be undefeated. But, the fact that they aren't isn't a total season-killer. UCLA will likely have to win out to have a shot at the playoff, but it should be reassuring that the possibility still exists.


For more Bruin observations, follow Everett Cook on Twitter @everettcook.