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UCLA Football at Utah: Bruins Nation's Q&A With BlockU

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Three teams left, two games remaining, one Pac-12 South champ. U.C.L.A. may control its own destiny, but getting past a well coached and physical Utah team is the first big hurdle in the Bruins' path.

QB Travis Wilson and RB Devontae Booker are a fantastic pair for the Utah offense
QB Travis Wilson and RB Devontae Booker are a fantastic pair for the Utah offense
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Each week during the Pac-12 season, we try to hook up with our fellow SB Nation sites across the conference. This week we get one of the other two teams tied atop the Pac-12 South, the Utah Utes. Alex Stark from the great SB Nation site BlockU was good enough to share his time and thoughts on Utah football, the future of their head coach, and why no one can replace BYU.

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Bruins Nation: That beatdown the Utes put on Oregon was incredible and it vaulted Utah into the top 5 in the country at the time, but things have come back to earth a bit with a 4-2 record since. What happened that day and what has kept that game from being the norm for Utah since?

BlockU: The Oregon game was incredibly fun to watch. It just seemed like Utah could do no wrong. I don't think that one game is representative of a typical game from Utah though (as much as I wish it was). Utah had nothing to lose in that game. No one was really giving them much chance to win, so they pulled out all the stops and dialed up some excellent trick plays. It was also one of Travis Wilson's best games as a Ute. Utah has kind of settled back into their ball control offense though rather than the aggressive offense that torched Oregon. Utah also tried another trick special teams play against ASU that failed miserably and resulted in a safety. They have been far less aggressive on special teams after that play.

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BN: In Utah's game winning drive last year, the Bruins knew Devontae Booker was getting the ball and they still couldn't stop him. Besides a great offensive line, what makes him such a great running back? Who is replacing Booker in the backfield this weekend?

BlockU: Booker does a lot well. He is faster than you think, stronger than his size would indicate, and he can run around or through a defender. He fights for extra yards a la Marshawn Lynch (it is why people call him Book Mode, like Beast Mode). Utah does also have a big, physical offensive line and have for years, but Booker sometimes just makes his own holes. Stacking the box with eight defenders is not a bad idea to try to slow him down, but Utah has a senior quarterback in Wilson, who has shown he can punish defenses that key in on Booker and good receivers in Kenneth Scott and Britain Covey. Scott is a big, physical receiver with a basketball background. Covey is small and shifty. He is hard to bring down in the open field and has lots of big play potential. Not much has been said about Booker's health. I think most expect him to play, but backup running back Joe Williams will likely see his most carries of the year. He is also a big back. He is not as physical as Booker, but he has 4.5 speed, so he has the potential to rip off a few big plays. He's a guy I've been excited about since I saw him play in fall camp.

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BN: Booker and QB Travis Wilson get most of the headlines, but the Utah defense is playing well this year under first year defensive coordinator John Pease. Has the defense played up to expectations and are there any specific weaknesses that the Bruins balanced offense should try to exploit?

BlockU: I think the defense has lived up to or exceeded expectations. They do a lot well, especially stopping the run. I would say their biggest weaknesses are getting consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and finishing sacks (there have been too many times they let the QB escape a sack and either run or throw for a first down on third and long) and pass defense. The Utes force a lot of turnovers (especially interceptions), so the secondary is by no means weak, but plenty of teams have moved the ball through the air. Without a consistent running threat though teams often make mistakes against the Utah defense, so the total yards given up by the passing defense are a bit misleading, but it is without question the best chance a team has to move the ball on Utah.

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BN: It shouldn't have been a big surprise to anyone paying attention, but Kyle Whittingham has to be considered, if not the best, then at least in the top 2 or 3 coaches in the Pac-12. What makes him so successful, and with all the vacancies around the country, is there any chance the conference's longest tenured coach considers working anywhere else?

BlockU: I think you touched on it: he is the longest tenured coach in the conference. He knows his team and his players. He has his system that he runs, and he has finally got the talent to run it effectively against Pac-12 foes. Whittingham values defense, special teams, running the football, and winning the turnover margin. Teams that are good at these things tend to win a lot of football games. Could he leave Utah? Of course, I am sure he will listen to what some other schools have to offer, but I think at the end of the day, he stays at Utah. He has shown loyalty to Utah. I also think the hullabaloo with the AD last offseason was a bit overblown. They probably are not best friends, but I think they can work together well enough. I expect Whittingham to stay at Utah, and I would not be surprised if he gets a raise.

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BN: Utah, Southern Cal, UCLA. It's a two game season. Which team should someone independent (you and I are biased and shouldn't be trusted) bet the farm on?

BlockU: That's a tough one. I am obviously biased, but I do think it will be Utah. Utah has the most favorable schedule of the three contenders. Utah gets UCLA and Colorado at home. Compare that to USC who has to travel to a surging Oregon team then play rival UCLA who has had their number for three years. UCLA has two road games left. Because of all that, I think Utah has the best shot to go 2-0 down the stretch and win the South (I think USC drops at least one of their final two).

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BN: Old hatreds never die, they just sit on the back burner until the next time you play again. With that in mind, after 4 years in the Pac-12, has anyone in the conference partially replaced BYU in the hearts and minds of Utah fans?

BlockU: BYU is still by far Utah's biggest rival. Colorado just does not feel like a rival in the way that BYU does. There is just so much bitterness between the two programs and so much history. Utah fans became huge UCLA fans the week they played BYU. I think as Colorado improves the rivalry will grow, but Colorado will not overtake BYU has Utah's main rival for a long time or maybe ever. I wish Utah would have a bigger rival in conference, but they just do not. If Utah and Oregon State were in the same division, I could have seen that develop into a rivalry. They have played a lot of close games, and OSU stole a few coaches and recruits from Utah last offseason, but I just don't see a rivalry developing against a team you do not play every year.

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Our sincere appreciation once again to Alex and the gang at BlockU. For all the best news and analysis on Utah sports, head over to BlockU and join the conversation, and follow them on twitter at @BlockU.

GO BRUINS!