Tonight, the UCLA Bruin football team (4-4, 2-3 PAC 12) clashes with the Utah Utes (4-4, 1-4 PAC 12) in Salt Lake City. Both teams have had similar struggles this season, although Utah has had a more marked descent, winning its first four games before losing the last four in a row, the last loss being a 41-20 blowout in Eugene against the Oregon Ducks.
When one looks at playing Utah on the road, one must also take into consideration the altitude and the weather. Although his predecessor, Rick Neuheisel, had problems winning in Salt Lake City, UCLA Head Coach Jim L. Mora has fared better in road games at Utah, going 2-0, with wins in 2013 and 2015. Suffice to say, UCLA teams coached by Mora do not appear to have been affected by the altitude (Rice-Eccles Stadium is at 4,657 feet).
Weather should not be an issue either. It won’t be cold (temperatures are expected to be in the high 50s at kickoff) and precipitation is unlikely by game time, although showers are possible earlier in the day.
The major question going into this game is whether Josh Rosen will play. Mora has been coy about the nature of Rosen’s undisclosed injuries. When confronted with a reporter’s question about the severity of Rosen’s injuries, which had some critics questioning Rosen’s toughness, Mora launched into a diatribe against one such critic, color commentator Brock Huard. Was this a case of “methinks thou dost protest too much”? I wouldn’t put it past Mora. Has Rosen checked out on UCLA and the season as UCLA plays for nothing more than pride and a meaningless, lower tier bowl game? Or did Rosen suffer some other injury—more than a cut pinkie finger? He WAS getting destroyed in the pocket, as the offensive line struggled to contain the Washington pass rush. Time will tell and we will all know the answer at 6:30 p.m. PT tonight.
I struggled to find a relevant musical selection this week. I don’t have strong feelings about the Utah Utes one way or the other. I already featured my “Mora protest” song. There are very few bands from Utah--only two that I had ever heard of-- and both of those have their roots in Provo, not Salt Lake. So I scrolled through my iTunes library until I found a tune that, at least superficially, had some relevance to the game. Although the lyrics seem to be about a lost love and the difficulties in moving forward after such a failed relationship—wait, maybe this COULD be about my relationship with the Mora-led Bruins—the song title, by itself is spot on. Here is “Tighten Up,” the 2010 hit by The Black Keys:
If they were smart, our remaining opponents’ head coaches would follow the blueprint for beating the Bruins as established by Washington last weekend—pound the rock. Bad angles, over pursuit, missed tackles, and lack of situational awareness have plagued UCLA’s rushing defense this season, resulting in it being dead last in the nation in rushing defense. For UCLA to have success agaisnt Utah, it will need to “tighten up” its rushing defense.
Washington’s offensive game plan against UCLA last weekend was smart. Even with the 2016 PAC 12 Player of the Year at quarterback, U-Dub ran the ball down UCLA’s throat, taking advantage of UCLA’s most glaring weakness. The Huskies ran the ball 58 times (for 333 yards) and only threw the ball 12 times. No tricky play-calling. No surprises. Simply line up and beat your man. Everybody knew what Washington was going to do, even the UCLA defense, but the Bruins could not stop them.
Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham is a smart guy. He usually does more with less. That means that he takes advantage of match-ups. Although sophomore quarterback, Tyler Huntley, has done OK throwing the ball, he and running back Zach Moss have done a better job running the ball. Huntley has 288 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns and Moss has 587 yards with three touchdowns. The first PGG is a two-parter. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 1: How many times will Utah run the football against UCLA. How many rushing yards will Utah gain against the UCLA defense (FYI, the Bruins have given up an inconceivable 307.1 rushing yards per game this season)?
There is uncertainty about who will be under center for the Bruins tonight. I’ve already discussed Rosen earlier in this article but, in relief duty, Devon Modster actually played pretty well against Washington after a slow start. The UCLA back-up QB threw for a touchdown and completed 7 of 12 passes for 77 yards, in about a quarter and a half. Today’s second PGG is also a two parter. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 2: Who will start at quarterback for UCLA tonight? How many passing yards will that quarterback gain?
UCLA and Utah are two of the most penalized teams in the nation. Sitting at tied for #120 and tied for #106 respectively, the Bruins have committed 69 penalties for 661 yards and the Utes have committed 61 penalties for 566 yards. Throw in S.T.P.R.s and this game makes for a penalty-fest. The third PGG is also a two parter. PREGAME GUESS NUMBER 3: How many penalties will the team combine for tonight? Will either team be called for targeting?
Another Pregame Guesses is in the books. Make your selections in the comment section. And . . .