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SALT LAKE CITY -- Entering the "Snow Bowl" at Rice-Eccles Stadium, both the University of Utah and UCLA looked to become bowl eligible after a poor start to the season. But it was a progressing Utah offense that was able to lead the Utes to bowl eligibility for another season, beating the Bruins 31-6.
Norm Chow has consistently proved he is a mastermind offensive coordinator, showing his years of experience on the field with an improving Utah offense. Facing his former team, Chow outpaced the UCLA defense, mixing up the playbook to keep the Bruins on their heels. Opening up the game, Chow went with the passing game to keep the Bruins guessing. Continuing with the offensive strike, Chow had the perfect combination of the run game and passing game.
Additionally, Chow showed Rick Neuheisel he does not need a head coach to micro manage the offense. At UCLA, Neuheisel and Chow disagreed about the pistol offense, which ultimately led to the departure of Chow to Utah. However, with the Utes, head coach Kyle Whittingham has turned the offense over to Chow. Even with a mediocre offense, Chow has excelled with Utah.
John White IV continues to dominate as the leader of Utah's offense. Plain and simple, White is a play maker, willing to sacrifice his body play after play for extra yards. White had a tremendous night against the Bruins, pulling down a 13-yard pass for a touchdown, with two additional rushing touchdowns and 180 total yards.
Coming into their inaugural season in the Pac-12, there were worries at the running back position, with early expectations pointing to Bingham High star Harvey Langi as the team starter, especially with White's size. However, in fall practice, White proved his abilities, earning the starting role at running back. Now, Utah is forever grateful for the junior college transfer resurrecting the season.
Jon Hays appears to be making the necessary improvements to lead the Utah offense. Saturday night against the Bruins, Hays looked like a mature quarterback, waiting to make the play, instead of rushing the play. Additionally, Hays is finding his receivers better, without forcing a pass into coverage.
In the last three games -- all Utah wins -- Hays has not turned over the ball. He appears to have learned in the heartbreaking losses against Arizona State, Washington and Cal. Against UCLA, Hays went five-of-13 for 67 yards and one touchdown. Although the passing game is still relatively weak, the Utes do not have to rely on the pass to win games.
The Utah defense held UCLA to only two field goals and 295 total yards. The Bruins are no where near the top of the Pac-12, but were still in contention to play in the first ever Pac-12 Championship game. The Utah defense continues to prove its top spot in the Pac-12, with a tough defensive line, strong linebackers and ubiquitous defensive backs.
Utah is now bowl eligible, winning their last three Pac-12 games. Prior to joining the Pac-12, many said Utah could not play a tough schedule, facing BCS teams on a weekly basis. However, Utah has shown they can take it to the next level, finally hitting their stride and winning games. Although the past three weeks have not been teams from the top of the Pac-12, Utah has shown they can play a difficult schedule.
Utah became a victim to a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Jordan Wynn, which was forced to rely on a junior college player who had never played a game in Division I football prior to Utah.
Although not a justifiable excuse, Utah's record may not actually reflect its true level of competition. Beating the bottom team of the Pac-12 does not prove anything, but it is reasonable to speculate the Utes are better than their season standings suggests.