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SALT LAKE CITY — A win against UCLA (5-4, 4-2) this week and the Utes (5-4, 2-4) are bowl eligible — an accomplishment that many felt was impossible only a few short weeks ago. Are the Utes on a roll, or are they just playing bad teams? This week should answer those questions when the Bruins come to town hot off their victory over Arizona State a week ago. We’ll answer the rest of them right here in our weekly five-question preview of Utah’s game.
What did we learn about the Utes from last week’s game at Arizona?
- Jon Hays is settling in. Norm Chow has simplified the offense and it’s paying off for Hays, who looked much better against the Wildcats than he has all year, throwing for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
- Yep, John White IV is for real. We’ve been asking it for a few weeks now, but his high level of play is becoming more consistent, running for 109 yards this week and going over the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
- The defense is the best in the conference. It’s been speculated over the last month or so, but the Ute defense just held one of the most high-powered offenses in the country essentially to 14 points (21, after a late, garbage-time touchdown).
What lingering questions do we still have about the Utes?
- Is the secondary improving? They didn’t break on Saturday night, but they definitely bent against Nick Foles and the Arizona passing attack. A good portions of the Wildcats’ drives that stalled did so because they got stupid and tried to run it against the Utes’ extraordinarily stout front seven or Foles threw an errant pass in a key situation.
- Can the Utes beat a quality team? Arizona and Oregon State are the bottom of the Pac, I get it, but the Beavers were one of the quality opponents on BYU’s schedule. The message boards full of BYU fans saying the Utes haven’t beaten anyone need to go away. This week will be the chance the Utes have to shut their critics up.
- A lot of running the ball. Head coach Rick Neuheisel is stubborn; just ask Norm Chow. Neuheisel and the UCLA offense like to run the ball, and they will try to do so against the Utes’ strong front seven. The Bruins run it more than anyone else in the Pac-12 except Oregon and they pass it less than anyone in the conference by far. This bodes well for Utah.
- A very vanilla defense. UCLA doesn’t put pressure on the quarterback and they don’t try to stop the run by loading the box. They trust their athletes to out-athlete other teams. UCLA has the second-least amount of sacks in the Pac-12 and the Bruins give up the second-most rushing yards per game in the conference.
- Quarterback Kevin Prince to make plays when plays break down. Prince is good on his feet and has a way of making plays when it seems like there’s nothing there.
What can UCLA expect from the Utes?
- Utah will go back to trying to run it down the throat of its opponent. As I said earlier, UCLA doesn’t do anything clever to stop the run, so the Utes should rely on their powerful run blocking and White to control the ball.
- The Utes will try to pressure Prince into making bad throws. Only Sean Mannion of Oregon State has thrown more interceptions in the Pac- 12 than Prince, and Prince has nearly 100 less attempts. The other difference: Mannion has faced Utah’s defense, throwing three picks against the Utes two weeks ago. Miscellaneous:
- Utah lost the first eight games it ever played against UCLA, but it won the last game against the Bruins back in 2007.
- The Bruins were ranked 11th in the nation the last time they visited Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes beat them 44-6 that day back in 2007.
- UCLA is 3-1 in Salt Lake City all-time.
- Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow served in the same position for UCLA the last three seasons.
- Finally, the Utes came out of a game without any additional injuries. There are no new major injuries to report for Utah after the Arizona game.
- The game can be seen on KJZZ at 4:30 p.m. MST. It can also be heard on ESPN700 on the radio.
The Utes have had some bad schematic matchups as of late, but this one is a great match for Utah. Although it comes out of a pistol attack, UCLA approaches the game a lot like Pittsburgh did. Obviously the Utes handled Pitt very well, giving up zero points to the Panther offense when they played a month ago. This UCLA team, however, has both more speed and more size and should be a little bit more of a handful for the Ute defense. That said, despite the fact that the Bruins just beat Arizona State, the Bruins are going to have a hard time scoring against Utah. Vegas puts the Utes at a touchdown favorite, and that’s probably about right.
Trevor Amicone is the sports director at 88.1 Weber FM "Ogden's Radio Station" and host of the sports talk radio show, "Fully Loaded Sports with Trevor Amicone". Find more of his blogs at TrevorsTopTens.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TrevorAmicone.