No one on UCLA’s side has underplayed the importance of its next game, a Saturday trip to Salt Lake City with effects that will ripple past state borders.
“This is it right here,” said Kenny Clark, the Bruins’ star nose tackle. “This is it for us. This is it for them.”
This is the game that could end Pac-12 South hopes for UCLA (7-3, 4-3) or Utah (8-2, 5-2), the game that could have one group of fans jumping into the air and the other shielding its eyes. Both are in position to potentially finish at the top of the division by winning out — though the No. 18 Utes also need USC to lose. Both could still fall to a forgettable bowl game.
Here’s what to watch when the Bruins kick off at 12:30 p.m. at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
When UCLA has the ball
Josh Rosen has played like a top-level quarterback for the past several weeks. Can he keep it up against one of the best defenses he’s seen?
The true freshman has thrown 188 passes without an interception, and needs only 12 more to break UCLA’s record for consecutive attempts without a pick. However, Utah’s defense leads the Pac-12 with 16 picks. No team from a Power Five conference has more.
The Utes have a solid lineup across their entire defense, but the most impressive part is the line. Starting defensive end Hunter Dimick has been limited by injuries this season, but Kylie Fitts — who played sparingly at UCLA in 2013 before transferring out the following August — has filled in nicely, notching 4.5 sacks and six pass breakups in eight starts. On the other side of the line is senior Jason Fanaika, who is second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Continue reading
UCLA needs two more wins to clinch the Pac-12 South, but closing out its schedule on the road won’t be easy. Before next week’s regular-season finale against USC, the Bruins must travel to Salt Lake City and upset No. 18 Utah. The team has come back to Earth after a 6-0 start that vaulted them to third place in the AP poll, but is still the type of tough, defensive-minded squad that often spells trouble for UCLA. The Salt Lake Tribune‘s Kyle Goon answered five questions about the Utes.
1. Utah is likely out of the playoff picture after brief stay in the national top five, but it’s still in the midst of its best season since joining the Pac-12. What’s the bar the rest of the way for closing out on what players or fans would consider a “successful” year?
I think fans would really like to go to the Rose Bowl. The Utes have never gone to that game, which — despite its lesser importance in the College Football Playoff structure — is still the Grand Old Lady of the Pac-12. It’s a status symbol that Utah would like to attain, and since it’s in Los Angeles, a lot of people would probably make the trip. Of course this year, it will be the Pac-12 champion that goes, and Utah doesn’t control its own destiny (USC has to lose). I think winning out against UCLA and Colorado would also probably welcomed as a success, as long as Utah finishes first or second in the Pac-12 South.
2. How big of a blow to Utah’s offense is the loss of Devontae Booker? What’s the plan for the Utes moving forward?
It’s a huge blow. Booker is among the top 10 players in all-purpose yards per game (157 ypg), and Utah’s offense accounts for his production a lot to set up play action passing and keep the box stacked. The Utes don’t really have a guy who can replace Booker’s power and vision, as well as his receiving production. The Utes will turn to Joe Williams, who showed some promise last week and is probably faster than Booker. Continue reading
Utah will be without star running back Devontae Booker for at least the rest of the month, giving a tremendous boost to the UCLA defense that visits Salt Lake City on Saturday.
According to both ESPN700 and the Salt Lake Tribune, Booker has been scheduled for a minor meniscus surgery today. He is expected to be out until at least the Utes’ bowl game. The 5-foot-11, 212-pound leads the FBS with 268 carries, and is second in the Pac-12 with 11 touchdown runs. His 1,579 yards from scrimmage accounts for more than 40 percent of Utah’s total offensive output.
The Bruins had praised Booker all week long, with defensive tackle Kenny Clark calling him the “best running back we’ve played all year.”
“Booker’s a tremendous athlete,” Clark said on Wednesday. “Strong runner. Can’t arm tackle him. He’s going to run through arm tackles. … He’s just a powerful runner, man. He’s fast. He has good balance. You hit him, he stays on his feet.”
UCLA defensive tackle Kenny Clark notched a career-high three sacks against Washington State last weekend, giving him five on the season to tie linebacker Aaron Wallace for the team lead. The junior talked about his pass rushing, as well as what he thinks of Utah running back Devontae Booker.