Utah 30, UCLA 28: Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich

In their 30-28 upset of UCLA on Saturday night, Utah set up its go-ahead field goal with nine straight runs for 63 yards. Overall, the Bruins gave up 242 yards on the ground, a season-high by 78.

“Great defenses gotta stop the run when you know they’re gonna run,” said UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “We knew they were gonna run, and we didn’t.”

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What to watch: No. 8 UCLA vs. Utah

UCLA returns to the Rose Bowl tonight at 7:30 p.m. to host Utah, a program that has given the Bruins a good fight their last few meetings despite ending each season with a lackluster record. Jim Mora’s team looked uneven out of the gate this season, but appears to be rounding closer to the playoff-contending form most analysts expected.

A few things to watch for in the matchup:

UCLA offense vs. Utah defense: On paper, Utah’s defense looks excellent across the board. The Utes rank eighth in the country in sacks (18), 19th in opponent passing yards per attempt (5.8), 21st in rushing yards per attempt (2.97), 29th in scoring defense (19.8).

Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake hasn’t been afraid to dial up pressure from the outside. Defensive ends Nate Orchard, Hunter Dimick and Jason Fanaika have combined for 10 sacks, as well as 46 tackles. Orchard has also dropped back in certain formations, and has two pass breakups and two passes defended. Linebackers Jared Norris and Gionni Paul have also been effective: the former leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss, while the latter with the interceptions.

The defense has also only surrendered one rushing touchdown this season, something only eight other teams in the FBS can claim. Continue reading

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After Oregon’s loss, is UCLA the new Pac-12 favorite?

Nearly four months ago, UCLA was listed as an early favorite almost through its entire 2014 schedule. The exception? Mighty Oregon, just a year removed from four straight BCS bowls, and an early three-point favorite.

My, how things have changed.

UCLA stumbled out of the gate, collecting three uneven wins before stomping on then-No. 15 Arizona State last Thursday. The Bruins still have question marks, but they’re on the upswing, and back in the hearts and minds of at least a few national pundits. One ESPN analyst has them in the San Francisco Bowl, but another picked the Fiesta Bowl. CBS Sports has slotted UCLA back into the Sugar Bowl, as the No. 4 seed in a national semifinal against Alabama.

The No. 2 Ducks, meanwhile, might have cost themselves national title hopes with their 31-24 loss at home last night to Arizona — the most surprising undefeated team left in the country. (Earlier this week, Yahoo! Sports’ Pat Forde wrote this of the Wildcats: “Chances of being unbeaten by Halloween: zero.”) Continue reading

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Five questions: Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon talks Utah

UCLA returns to the Rose Bowl on Saturday to host Utah, a team that — despite struggling since moving to the Pac-12 — has lost to the Bruins by only a touchdown in their last two meetings. The Salt Lake Tribune’s Kyle Goon answered five questions about the Utes.

1. Utah won four Pac-12 games in 2011, three in 2012, then two in 2013. Even if Kyle Whittingham’s job isn’t truly at risk this season, how much of a leash does he have moving forward?

We don’t have a concrete answer except to say that it is fairly tight. Our columnist Gordon Monson wrote about assistant coaches contracts in August, which haven’t been rolled over as they usually are. It seems like the baseline of success is winning six games and going to a bowl, which the Utes haven’t done in two years. If they don’t meet that standard, it seems the athletic department is poised to make at least big changes on the staff.

Whittingham has built up a lot of faith over the years by winning games and helping Utah be in position to make the Pac-12, and a lot of fans would like to see him stay. Still, many are wondering if he’s the guy who can lead the program to success in the Pac-12 era. He needs to show some kind of progress this year, which at this point is three Pac-12 wins, to keep his seat surely out of the flame.

2. After throwing nearly an interception for every touchdown over his first two seasons, Travis Wilson hasn’t been picked off yet. Does he look like a significantly better quarterback, or is he due for another turnover-heavy game? (Also, is he one bad hit away from potentially risking his career again?)

Two weeks ago, I would’ve said Travis Wilson is significantly better. The two games since have clouded the signs of progress. Continue reading

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UCLA linebacker Kenny Orjioke out for season with torn ACL

UCLA linebacker Kenny Orjioke will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL, head coach Jim Mora confirmed on Thursday.

Once a standout in spring camp, Orjioke has played as a reserve after falling behind Deon Hollins and Aaron Wallace on the outside linebacker depth chart. The junior has eight tackles this season to go along with a quarterback hurry. He also contributes on special teams, blocking a punt last season that led to a touchdown by fullback Phillip Ruhl.

The Bruins will apply for a medical hardship waiver for Orjioke, who is still just 19 years old.

“It’s not a good deal,” Mora said. “I feel bad for him. I’ve talked to him. He’s in good spirits. He’ll work hard to get back as quickly as he can.”

JUCO transfer defensive end Takkarist McKinley and sophomore linebacker Cameron Judge, a special teams standout, could see more snaps in Orjioke’s stead.

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VIDEO: Jeff Ulbrich says UCLA defense is ‘hungry’ to prove itself

UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich talked on Wednesday about defensive back Ishmael Adams, defensive end Takkarist McKinley, and the looming matchup against Utah and quarterback Travis Wilson.

“For a defense that’s as hungry as we are right now, and eager as these guys are to prove to the world who they are — who they want to become — it’s a great challenge for us,” Ulbrich said. “It’s the perfect game for us.”

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Receiver Alex Van Dyke eager to contribute after burning redshirt

Through UCLA’s preseason training camp, Alex Van Dyke looked the part of a starting receiver — if you imagined him two years into the future.

The true freshman looked bigger than his listed 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, a frame that could easily carry more weight. Also an All-Metro basketball player at Elk Grove (Calif.) Cosumnes Oaks, Van Dyke already had the genes (son of a former NFL player) and the nickname (“Bambi” for his wobbly gait).

He just didn’t always look like he knew what to do. After two weeks in San Bernardino, Van Dyke seemed destined for a redshirt — especially considering that the Bruins returned nearly every receiver from 2013, including four who had double-digit receptions.

So it was a bit of a surprise when, with UCLA already up by three touchdowns in last Thursday’s 62-27 win at Arizona State, the true freshman stepped onto the field for a handful of plays. Continue reading

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