The UCLA Bruins are prepping for the most important game of the season on Saturday as they travel to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes. UCLA, Utah, and Southern Cal are all at the top of the Pac-12 South and a berth in the title game plus bowl eligibility is on the line for the Bruins.
Utah’s defense is a force to be reckoned with and their offense, while not quite as prolific, is clicking as well. They are 34th in the country in total offense, but their defense helps out as they are tied for third in defensive touchdowns. Here is a breakdown of the offense UCLA will be defending against.
Senior Tyler Huntley is having an amazing season, ranking third in the country and first in the Pac-12 for completion percentage at 73.2%. He has only thrown one interception and that was three weeks ago against Arizona State. He has over 2,000 yards this season and averages just over 229 yards per game. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns in the air and run for four more.
It’s no wonder that Huntley is a Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award finalist and is on the Manning Award watch list. He was also a two-time Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. Huntley no doubt has talent and, when his receivers are covered, he can make things happen with his feet. But, a quarterback isn’t on his own—he needs a great offensive line to provide the coverage.
The Utes return junior Orlando Umana as their starting center and he will be flanked by redshirt freshman guard Braeden Daniels and redshirt senior tackle Darrin Paulo on the left. Both Daniels and Paulo have gotten the start in every game this year and Paulo actually moved from the right side to the left after last season. Redshirt sophomore guard Nick Ford and redshirt freshman tackle Simi Moala will be on the right. Ford has the ability to play center, tackle, and guard.
There is NFL potential in both Paulo and Ford and Utah has a tradition of sending linemen to the pros. Offensive line coach Jim Harding currently has five of his former players taking snaps on the front line in the NFL and his expertise was going to come in handy this year to keep the Ute offense rolling in the right direction. Utah didn’t have any big names on the roster for this unit. While the Utes were projected to do well, their offensive line was a bit of an unknown. Preseason hype is always hard to live up to, but it seems Utah has checked that box so far. Practicing against one of the best defensive lines in the country has probably helped.
Senior Zack Moss is definitely the Utes’ main rushing threat with 137 attempts so far for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He and Huntley were basically projected to be the offense this year and Moss is breaking records all over the place. He broke the school rushing record held by Eddie Johnson in mid-October against Arizona State and his touchdown against UC Berkeley on October 26 broke Del Rodgers’ touchdown record that had held since 1981. He has had five 100+ yard games this year and is a Maxwell Award semifinalist and is also on watch lists for the Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Doak Walker Award. Moss can also catch the ball. He has 13 receptions for 215 yards and one touchdown.
While Moss gets the majority of touches rushing, he certainly isn’t the only rusher. Sophomore Devin Brumfield is behind Huntley with 45 attempts for 208 yards and freshman Jordan Wilmore has 43 rushes for 189 yards. There are a total of eight Utes with rushing TD’s this year, but expect Moss to get a majority of those attempts.
Huntley is really spreading the ball around this year. Sophomore Bryan Thompson leads the team in receiving yards with 431 on 16 catches including three touchdowns. He has two games that top the 100-yard mark this year and this is after coming off his freshman year only seeing action in four games. Freshman Brant Kuithe has definitely made a name for himself, snagging 17 receptions for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
We will also see senior Demari Simpkins, redshirt sophomore Jaylen Dixon, and redshirt junior Samson Nacua catching passes as well. As stated before, Huntley has a wide variety to choose from, so if he is able to make his reads and has time to check down, he will be successful hitting his guys.
Utah’s secret to success is definitely their defense. However, the Utes have put up no less than 21 points in every game this season. Our defense is going to be key in this game because Utah is going to make it extremely difficult for UCLA’s offense to score. It may come down to who’s defense is better.