UCLA Bruins vs. Utah Utes Complete Game Preview
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
The No. 12 UCLA Bruins (3-0) will face perhaps its toughest test of the season thus far on Thursday when the team battles the Utah Utes (3-1) in chilly Salt Lake City.
It will mark the first conference game of the season for the Bruins. Utah has played one conference game in the 2013 season, narrowly losing to Oregon State by a score of 51-48.
The last time UCLA played at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Bruins were blasted by a score of 31-6.
Utah is a tough, physical football team that will be the most complete squad the Bruins will have faced to date.
Here's everything you need to know:
Date: Thursday, Oct. 3
Time: 7:00 p.m. PT
Place: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah.
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: Sirius XM Radio
Spread: UCLA -5 per VegasInsider.com.
UCLA Keys to Victory
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Contain Travis Wilson
Wilson is going to be productive in this game. He's far too talented of player not to put up good numbers.
For UCLA, it's about minimizing those statistics. Wilson can't run wild on zone-read plays. If he's effective initially, it'll open up both the passing game and rush attack.
Tailback James "Bubba" Poole could be the main benefactor from Wilson succeeding.
Bottom line: Prevent the big play. Make Wilson scattered, not allowing him to sit comfortably in the pocket. Should he escape the pocket, UCLA's defenders have to fly to the ball.
Run the football effectively
Jordon James has gotten off to a very good start to the season. He's fifth nationally in rushing yards per game.
Against Utah, it figures to be tough sledding compared to the competition he's faced thus far.
Utah's defensive line of Trevor Reilly, Latu Heimuli, Tenny Palepoi and Nate Orchard will easily be the most talented and physical group the Bruins will have faced up to this point. Utah will do everything it can to make UCLA's offense one-dimensional.
With a potent rush attack, it'll help to take pressure off of quarterback Brett Hundley in what figures to be a hostile environment.
Utah Keys to Victory
Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Win the line of scrimmage
Utah's offensive line is massive up front. The unit averages out to be 320 pounds. Tackle Jeremiah Poutasi is a mountain of a man at 6'5", 345 pounds. The overall size advantage that Utah will enjoy could cause problems for UCLA's defensive line.
UCLA's spread offense thrives on rhythm. If Utah can run the ball effectively, a sense of ball control could occur. Ultimately, that would keep UCLA's offense off the field.
Dually, Utah's defensive line could completely disrupt the Bruins' timing on offense with continual pressure. Ends Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard could be problematic for UCLA's starting tackles Torian White and Simon Goines.
The old adage is whoever can win the game on both lines will generally win the contest. This sentiment especially holds true for this contest.
Test UCLA's secondary vertically
Wilson is seventh nationally in total offense. He likes to throw the ball down the field, either in the pocket or on the move if flushed outside.
This will be the first game in which UCLA's secondary will truly be tested vertically.
Offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson will look to exploit UCLA's green set of defensive backs with the likes of receiver Dres Anderson and tight ends Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga.
Murphy, in particular, is someone who could provide Utah with lots of mismatches. Although a tight end, he's athletic enough to be employed at multiple spots on the field.
Poole is also a threat to catch passes out of the backfield.
Murphy absolutely has to be accounted for at all costs, even if it means dropping Anthony Barr into coverage.
Players to Watch for UCLA
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
The senior defensive end from Oaks Christian High School was supposed to have a breakout season in 2013. He was expected to be the primary player to pick up the production when Datone Jones graduated.
Thus far, he hasn't had the greatest statistical season by his standards. He's notched only one sack and has 2.5 tackles for loss.
The contest against Utah could be the game in which Marsh truly breaks out. UCLA will need him to pressure Wilson off of the edge.
With the zone read in play, Marsh will have to read his keys and not get caught out of position. If he collapses too soon, it'll open up running lanes for Utah's signal-caller.
Utah's secondary isn't particularly strong. The unit has allowed an average of over 288 yards per game early this season. That is good for 111th in the country.
Much like UCLA, there's been a huge turnover in the back end. Safety Eric Rowe is the only returning player from a year ago.
Fuller is a candidate to hurt Utah from the slot. Shaq Evans will likely draw a great deal of attention, and rightfully so. Should Evans get double teamed, Fuller should, in theory, face single coverage against a nickel back.
Fuller has caught four passes in each of the first three games this year. One gets the feeling that he hasn't quite shown his full potential or ability as of yet. That could come to fruition in this game.
Players to Watch for Utah
Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The 6'7", 240 pound quarterback is an absolute load. Possessing a strong arm and great size for the position, the San Clemente, Calif., product is off to a strong start in 2013.
He's thrown for 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns through four games. He's also completing passes at a high clip (64.3 percent).
Perhaps most impressive is Wilson's ability to run the football. He's second on the team with 250 rush yards.
New offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson has introduced the zone read with much success.
Wilson rushed for 142 yards against Oregon State earlier in the season. Considering Wilson's considerable height, it's very astounding.
Wilson is the heartbeat of Utah's offense. He's utilized very similar to how former Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler was under Erickson. His ability to make smart decisions and impact the game with his feet will go a long way in determining how successful Utah will be in this contest.
The 6'5", 255 pound hybrid defensive end/linebacker could perhaps be Utah's best defensive player.
He's a high-energy player who plays with a relentless motor from the outside. On the season, Reilly already has two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss.
While not overly strong, he relies primarily on quickness and effort.
UCLA's tackles (Torian White, Simon Goines) would likely be considered to be the "weaknesses" of the Bruins' offensive line. That's not to say that they're poor players by any stretch, but the interior of UCLA's line is very good across the board.
It's imperative that UCLA can block Reilly effectively. The senior from Valley Center, Calif., is a leader on this team. The squad, in essence, feeds off of his energy.
If he's playing well, the Utes' defense is likely flying around and making plays.
What They Are Saying
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, speaking about his relationship with Utah offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson: "I learned my football from Dennis Erickson. Most of the concepts I really believe in, I learned from him. He was the father of these one-back offenses. He loves the vertical passing game."
UCLA head coach Jim Mora on Erickson: "He has a great football mind and can exploit weaknesses in teams and we are seeing big plays coming out of that offense with a quarterback that is efficient. [Erickson's] handprints are all over that."
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham on UCLA: "UCLA, as I mentioned last week, is a tremendous football team. Really, they have no weaknesses right now. Bottom line is that it's a great challenge for us, but we'll be ready to play and we're looking forward to the game on Thursday night."
Whittingham on what it will take to win the game: "I think it starts with the line of scrimmage like it does most weeks. Offensively, we need to protect Travis (Wilson) and open some holes for the run game."
*A full transcribed press conference of Whittingham speaking about UCLA can be found here.
*Mora speaking about preparations for Utah can be found here.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
UCLA 31, Utah 27
This figures to be a very competitive contest. Both teams are extremely well-coached, physical and passionate on the field.
Travis Wilson and Brett Hundley are similar quarterbacks from the standpoint of how both play. In addition, the offensive schemes for each team will likely mirror one another.
Playing in Salt Lake City on a Thursday night in front of a rabid fan base will be no easy proposition for Mora's team. It'll be imperative that Hundley and company can keep composed throughout the game. Undoubtedly, there will be portions of the game that involve adversity.
The way that the Bruins can deal with the said adversity will go a long way in determining how the game goes. The weather could also potentially pose an added wrinkle to the contest.
Look for UCLA's speed and athleticism on offense to really test Utah's physical defense. It's a fascinating clash of styles that should lead to some exciting play.
Give the Utes some points based on the fact that the game is in Utah.
However, UCLA is the more talented team across the board. The Bruins will eek out a close, hard-fought victory as a result.