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SALT LAKE CITY — As bad as the outcome of last Saturday's game against Washington State was for the Utes, it still only counts as one loss, and one loss hardly makes or breaks an entire year, especially this early in the season.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham was quick to point out that now is not the time to feel sorry for themselves.
"There is nothing to do but move forward," he said. "You can't press rewind. There is no rewind button in life. You have to forget about it, but you have to learn from it."
The Utah football team will get a chance to get that bad taste out of its mouth on the road Saturday, albeit will be against a much better opponent than any one they have faced so far this season.
"I don't believe our guys stopped playing hard, we just quit making plays," Whittingham said. "We didn't make the plays throughout the rest of the game that we were making early."
Next up for the Utes is a trip south to Los Angeles to take on the No. 8 UCLA Bruins in the Rose Bowl at 7:30 pm PT. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.
"(UCLA's) a top-10 team, big challenge on the road in the Rose Bowl," Whittingham said. "They are a team that is loaded top to bottom. Virtually every position has exceptional players. Their quarterback is exceptional, just like every other quarterback it seems like in this conference. There is no weakness on their football team. That's why they are a top-10 team. It will be a big challenge for us."
Here are five keys for the Utes as they get ready to take on the Bruins:
Last week is over. There is nothing they can do at this point to retroactively win the game vs. Washington State. Accept that the undefeated season is over and go back to the formula that worked so well in the first three games, playing loose and aggressive football. Learn from the mistakes made last week — like going ultra conservative on both the offensive and defensive sides of the football after securing a 21-0 lead — remembering that no lead is safe in the Pac-12 Conference.
Another thing to remember is for the Utes to remain unified through the ups and downs of the season. There were lots of rumblings that the defense was upset at the offense and vice versa following the disappointing loss. If Utah hopes to be successful in 2014 and return to a bowl game, sticking together will be key. After all the Utes are "United Together Eternal Soldiers".
Despite throwing six interceptions, the Utes had a chance to tie the game in the closing moments of last year's game against UCLA. Even the year before in Travis Wilson's first-career start, the Utes only lost by seven. Yes, the Bruins are a tough opponent, one that on paper should easily beat down the Utes, but that doesn't mean that with solid execution and a great game plan that the Utes can't come away with a victory.
When will Utah realize that this team is built around its defense? Defense and special teams have been the strength of the Utes since Whittingham took over in 2005. So why not use that to its advantage? Run the football with newly appointed starter Devontae Booker and chew up some clock, letting the defense catch a breather on the sideline. Utah's defense was phenomenal in the first half against Washington State, but wore down after continuous three-and-outs and other four- or five-play drives by the offense. Losing the time of possession battle by 10 minutes is a recipe for disaster.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is one of many dual-threat quarterbacks Utah will have to deal with this season in conference play. Unlike WSU QB Connor Halliday, Hundley isn't afraid to run. In last year's matchup with the Utes, Hundley rushed for 85 yards, including a critical 36-yard run late in the game to push the Bruin lead to 10. Utah will need to gameplan around slowing down the mobile quarterback and force him to beat them with his arm and not his feet.
The simplest explanation to last Saturday's stunning defeat was that Washington State coach Mike Leach and company made the adjustments necessary to get his team back in the game. Utah's offense seemingly got worse as the game went on, while the defense had its hands full and no choice but to go conservative as the tank started running out of gas.
If the offense is struggling, can Utah simplify the game plan and go with swing passes to the running backs and short out routes for Wilson to get into rhythm? Can the defense find a way to get a consistent pass rush with both of its units and not have an enormous drop off between starters and back-ups?
Robert Jackson is the cross platform sports and weather producer for ksl.com and KSL-TV. He has covered the Utes for KSL since 2008. You can catch him and co-host Brian Swinney Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-9 p.m. on the Ute Sports Report 1320 KFAN.