View Original Notice ? UCLA takes ‘road warrior’ mentality to Utah
Coach Chip Kelly and the UCLA football team are in Salt Lake City this weekend for a pivotal Pac-12 Conference South Division game against Utah.
There’s a lot at stake for the Bruins on Saturday night, some of which carries significance beyond this season as the program looks to turn a corner under Kelly.
UCLA (5-3 overall, 3-2 Pac-12) is coming off its third straight home loss of the season and is headed out of state again with a “road warrior” mentality, having won its past four conference road games (three this season).
The Bruins, who are trying to remain in the hunt for the division title, will face a Utah team that is unbeaten at home this season (3-0). UCLA is looking for its first victory over the Utes (4-3, 3-1) since 2015.
A win would also make the Bruins bowl eligible for the first time since 2017.
WHEN UCLA HAS THE BALL
The production of running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown was limited against an Oregon defense led by Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell last week.
The UCLA offense was held to 110 yards rushing last week, the third time the Bruins have been held below 200 yards this season (all losses). The UCLA duo must re-establish the run against a Utah defense that has allowed at least 148 rushing yards in four of its seven games.
There’s still a question about who will start at quarterback for the Bruins this week. Four-year starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson has a hand/wrist injury that could keep him off the field or limit his play-making ability.
Kelly has stated that the Bruins remain confident in redshirt freshman Ethan Garbers if he is needed. Thompson-Robinson has progressed throughout the week and was seen throwing the ball during practice on Wednesday, when reporters were last allowed to view practice. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told local reporters earlier this week that he would be shocked if Thompson-Robinson did not play.
The UCLA offense produced a fast start against Oregon, taking a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. The Bruins would benefit from taking a similar approach on Saturday, regardless of the quarterback situation, while Utah’s leading tackler (Devin Lloyd) is serving a first-half suspension because of a targeting penalty called during their game against Oregon State last week.
The Bruins must also account for Utah defensive end Mika Tafua, who leads the Pac-12 with 5½ sacks this season.
WHEN UTAH HAS THE BALL
The Bruins have been susceptible to giving up explosive plays this season, and they will be without cornerback Cameron Johnson for the first half because of a targeting penalty.
UCLA must be prepared for quarterback Cameron Rising’s passing ability and the likelihood that he will test true freshman Devin Kirkwood, who is expected to start in place of Johnson.
“(Rising is) a dynamic player,” Kelly said. “He can beat you with his arm and his legs. He seems like an accurate passer with a good grasp of the offense … since he’s been inserted into the lineup they’ve taken off offensively.”
Dalton Kincaid has served as the leading receiver for the Utes, averaging nearly 16 yards per catch.
The Bruins also have to account for running back Tavion Thomas, who leads a deep Utah backfield that includes Micah Bernard and TJ Pledger. Thomas has rushed for 405 yards and six touchdowns this season. UCLA held the Ducks to 121 rushing yards but allowed five rushing touchdowns – four from Travis Dye.
Britain Covey is another player who has the ability to contribute for Utah in multiple roles on offense and as a kicker returner.
On special teams, the Bruins have shown an ability to block kicks this season and might have a chance to make an impact play against the Utes, who had two kicks blocked last week.
UCLA (5-3, 3-2) vs. UTAH (4-3, 3-1)
When: Saturday, 7 p.m. PT
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
Watch/listen: ESPN / 1150 AM or 570 AM