Utah batters No. 8 UCLA’s playoff hopes with 30-28 upset

Utah Utes place kicker Andy Phillips (39) kicks a 29 yard field goal in the fourth quarter as Utah defeats UCLA Bruins 30-28 at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 4, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Utah Utes place kicker Andy Phillips (39) kicks a 29 yard field goal in the fourth quarter as Utah defeats UCLA Bruins 30-28 at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 4, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

PASADENA >> The college football elite fell this week, one thunderous collapse after another.

No. 2 Oregon couldn’t hold off Arizona on Thursday. Two days later, others fell too: No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas A&M.

So you could forgive eighth-ranked UCLA if it walked into the Rose Bowl on Saturday night with a little bit of extra swagger. Coming off a blowout road victory, they had a 74,329 of fans watching them — hoping to glimpse what, by next morning, would be a top-five team.

Utah made sure that didn’t happen.

All throughout their 30-28 upset win, the Utes knocked around UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley, racking up 10 sacks by the end of the night. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior took his first on just his third snap of the game, and took another four by the end of the first half. Continue reading

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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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First look: Utah Utes

No. 8 UCLA Bruins (4-0, 1-0) vs. Utah Utes (3-1, 0-1)
Kickoff: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. PT, Rose Bowl
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Jessica Mendoza)
Radio: 1150 Fox Sports LA / SIRIUS 136 (Chris Roberts, Matt Stevens, Wayne Cook)

Coach: Kyle Whittingham isn’t exactly on the hot seat, but the 54-year-old is at a bit of a crossroads in the midst of his 10th season at Utah.

Through his first six years, the Utes finished top-three in the Mountain West all but once — punctuating five straight postseason wins with a perfect 13-0 run to the Fiesta Bowl. His team finally stumbled in 2012 and lost to Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl, but still finished 23rd in the coaches’ poll.

Conference expansion knocked the program completely off course. Utah has yet to win a Pac-12 opener, and finished league play with four wins in 2011, three in 2012, and two in 2013. The Utes’ offense has finished either 11th or 12th in the Pac-12 in each of those seasons, which has pushed Whittingham into trying to juggle offensive coordinators like a bad Penn Jillette impression.

Utah’s 2014 campaign looked more promising after a road upset of Michigan, but the team followed up by blowing a 21-point lead to Washington State last weekend.

Key players:

QB Travis Wilson, Jr., 6-7, 233 — 56/96, 783 yards, 7 TD, 0 INT, 33 carries, 81 rushing yards, 1 TD
– About as tough as any quarterback you’ll find in the country, the San Clemente product looks more efficient after throwing 23 touchdowns against 22 interceptions over his first two seasons. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Saturday game against Utah to kick off at 7:30 p.m.

Fresh off a decisive win at Arizona State on national television, UCLA will spend another weekend in the spotlight.

After playing three of their first four games away from the Rose Bowl, the Bruins will return home on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Utah on ESPN. UCLA moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll after their 62-27 win over ASU.

The Utes’ promising start to the season was spoiled by Washington State’s 28-27 comeback victory in Salt Lake City. Utah had blown out Idaho State and Fresno State by 74 combined points to start the year, then beat Michigan, 26-10, on the road.

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Pac-12 links: Oregon State’s Mike Riley is the conference’s coaching ‘godfather’

» In a conference filled with newcomers, Oregon State coach Mike Riley is heading into his 14th season in the Pac-12. “Mike’s kind of a godfather,” said Stanford’s David Shaw.

» Apparently no longer content with uniform experimentation, Oregon will debut scratch-and-sniff season tickets this year. Unfortunately, the sticker is a Carl’s Jr. ad and likely smells like burgers rather than ducks.

» A former ASU running back was found shot to death on a hiking trial near Sedona. Continue reading

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