UCLA football 2017 schedule preview: Utah

Utah quarterback Troy Williams (3) tries to slip away from UCLA linebacker Kenny Young (42) last year at the Rose Bowl. Williams returns to the Utes with a new offensive coordinator in 2017. (Photo by Thomas R. Cordova // Press-Telegram/SCNG)

UCLA at Utah
Friday, Nov. 3, 6:30 p.m. PT, FS1/FOX Deportes | Rice-Eccles Stadium

Despite 28 wins over the past three seasons and three straight bowl wins, Utah is the last school without an outright Pac-12 South championship.

“We’re not going to apologize for winning nine-plus games the last three years, but we want to win a championship,” head coach Kyle Whittingham told Athlon Sports. “We’ve got to find a way to break through.”

The Utes tied for the title division title in 2015, but watched USC play in the championship game due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Whittingham hopes new offensive coordinator Troy Taylor can be the difference. Taylor was the quarterbacks coach at Eastern Washington last year and called plays for the Eagles as they set FCS records in passing yards (5,160) and total offense (5,766). The Utes (9-4, 5-4 Pac-12 last year) have ranked in the bottom half of the conference in passing offense in each of the past three years.

Game storylines

— Short rest: UCLA has to travel to Salt Lake City on a short week after facing the defending Pac-12 champions in Husky Stadium. It’s the toughest portion of an already unfriendly schedule. Jim Mora is 1-2 in Friday games played on a short week’s rest, losing to Stanford in 2012 and 2014 and beating Washington in 2013.

— In the trenches: Utah’s strength on the offensive and defensive lines has been the team’s calling card under Whittingham. The Ute offensive line bullied UCLA’s defense last season, paving the way for Joe Williams’ school-record 332 rushing yards, but has to replace four starters. The defensive line has led the Pac-12 in rushing defense for two straight years.

— Airborne: Taylor’s offense is a vast departure of how the Utes have played in the past. He’ll air it out and speed it up. Utah led the Pac-12 in time of possession last year and ran a play every 27.1 seconds while passing for 216.7 yards per game. During Taylor’s one year at Eastern Washington, the Eagles secured a Pac-12 win over Washington State, reeled off a play every 22.2 seconds and passed for 401 yards per game.

Players to watch

— QB Troy Williams: Williams took Utah’s passing offense from worst in the Pac-12 to eighth last year, passing for 2,757 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions. The former Narbonne quarterback could be in for a big statistical year in Taylor’s new system.

— LB Sunia Tauteoli: The Utes return all major contributors at the linebacker position, making it the defense’s most experienced unit. Tauteoli is a one-time junior college transfer who has cemented his spot in Utah’s defense as the “mac” linebacker. He had 57 tackles last year with three tackles for loss, one interception and one fumble recovery.

— DL Lowell Lotulelei: Lotulelei is the likely latest in Utah’s line of NFL-bound defensive linemen. The senior has made 30 starts in his career and has missed only one game in his career. He was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 in 2016 with 28 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.

Utah in a GIF


UCLA 2017 schedule

Sun., Sept. 3: Texas A&M at UCLA, 4:30 p.m. PT, FOX/FOX Deportes
Sat., Sept. 9: Hawai’i at UCLA, 2 p.m. PT, Pac-12 Networks

Sat., Sept. 16: UCLA at Memphis, 9 a.m. PT, ABC/ESPN2 mirror
Sat., Sept. 23: UCLA at Stanford
Sat., Sept. 30: Colorado at UCLA
Sat., Oct. 7: BYE
Sat., Oct. 14: UCLA at Arizona
Sat., Oct. 21: Oregon at UCLA
Sat., Oct. 28: UCLA at Washington
Fri., Nov. 3: UCLA at Utah, 6:30 p.m. PT, FS1/FOX Deportes
Sat., Nov. 11: Arizona State at UCLA
Sat., Nov. 18: UCLA at USC
Fri. Nov. 24: California at UCLA, 7:30 p.m. FS1/FOX Deportes
Fri., Dec. 1 or Sat., Dec. 2: Pac-12 Football Championship Game