Utes and Bruins meet in Pac-12 tussle

Pasadena, CA (SportsNetwork.com) – Fresh off knocking Arizona State out of the
national rankings, the eighth-ranked UCLA Bruins will face another challenge
when they play host to the Utah Utes in a Pac-12 Conference clash on Saturday
night.

This very well could have been a matchup of 4-0 teams if Utah had held on last
week against Washington State. Unfortunately for the Utes they were unable to
do so, allowing a 21-0 first-quarter lead to turn into a 28-27 loss.

For UCLA, last Thursday’s 62-27 stomping of then 15th-ranked Arizona State was
a cathartic victory. The Bruins, considered a dark horse contenders for the
inaugural College Football Playoff, had under-performed in the first three
weeks, squeaking out wins against Virginia, Memphis and Texas. However,
following the rout of the Sun Devils, all seems to be forgiven, for now.

In Salt Lake City last season, the Utes gave the Bruins a real challenge,
before eventually falling in a 34-27 decision. The loss was the second
straight and 10th in 12 all-time meetings for Utah against UCLA.

Redemption will be on the mind of every Utah player in this one, but it might
be an even more pressing desire for Travis Wilson. In last year’s loss, the
Utah quarterback was picked off six times, including a critical one in UCLA
territory with less than a minute to play.

In four games this season, Wilson has yet to have a pass intercepted, all
while completing 58.3 percent of his attempts for 783 yards and seven
touchdowns. Wilson is also a threat on the ground, with 81 yards and a
touchdown to his credit. He did not play well against Washington State,
finishing with just seven yards rushing and 165 yards through the air on 18-
of-38 passing.

“Travis has done a great job protecting the football and taking care of it.
That’s one of the reasons that we are 3-1, and we should be 4-0, because of
the lack up turnovers,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said, dismissing the
rough outing against the Cougars.

Although he struggled against Washington State and is averaging less than 200
passing yards per game, Wilson has still helped Utah’s offense score an
impressive 42 points per game.

Aiding Wilson in those efforts has been a solid group of skilled position
players. Running back Devontae Booker has impressed, averaging 6.5 yards per
carry. In all, he has rushed for 357 yards and three scores, with just six
yards lost on 55 carries. Bubba Poole is a nice second option (145 yards, TD),
and a threat in the passing game.

As for the threats down field, Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson have been
Wilson’s top targets. Scott (21 receptions, 225 yards, three TDs) leads the
team in receptions by a wide margin, but Anderson (13 receptions, 252 yards,
three TDs) is the big-play threat, averaging 19.4 yards per catch.

Utah’s strong start to the season has been predicated on strong defensive play
as well. The Utes are currently allowing less than 20 points and 370 yards of
total offense per outing. The strength of the unit is getting pressure on the
quarterback, with the Utes ranking second in the Pac-12 in sacks with 18.

Jared Norris (35 tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks), Nate Orchard (4.5 sacks) and
Jason Fanaika (3.0 sacks) have been getting after it up front with great
success.

There never was a quarterback controversy at UCLA. Some thought that following
Jerry Neuheisel’s heroics following an injury to Brett Hundley against Texas,
head coach Jim Mora might plug in the youngster against Arizona State. That
did not end up happening and Hundley showed why, throwing for 355 yards and
four touchdowns on 18-of-23 passing, all while tallying 72 yards and a score
on the ground. Hundley’s Heisman candidacy, along with UCLA’s offensive
confidence, clearly got a jolt from the effort.

Hundley will be playing with a brace on his arm for the foreseeable future,
but it isn’t anything to really worry about if you ask him.

“It’s a little concern. Obviously the more practice with the brace the more
comfortable I’ll feel with it but obviously it adds a bigger piece of weight
to your arm,” Hundley said. “At the same time you practice with it and it’ll
be fine.”

That is good news for a unit that is slowly creeping up the Pac-12 rankings.
The Bruins are currently seventh in the conference in total offense (480.3
ypg), and sixth in scoring (38 ppg).

Wide receiver Jordan Payton and running back Paul Perkins also are enjoying
solid seasons on the offensive side of the ball. Payton has 24 receptions for
417 yards and three touchdowns, all team-highs. He is one of only five players
in the Pac-12 averaging more than 100 yards per game. Meanwhile, Perkins has
picked up 441 yards and two scores on the ground on 77 total carries.

On the defensive side, the Bruins have a ton of talent, especially at
linebacker. Eric Kendricks (47 tackles, 3,0 TFL, INT) and Myles Jack (30
tackles) are ranked first and second on the team in tackles, respectively.
However, even with their help the Bruins still only have four sacks, which is
the fewest in the Pac-12.