UCLA looks to bounce back against inexperienced Utah

JOE REEDY
·4 min read

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Utah expects to finally open its season Saturday against UCLA at the Rose Bowl.

The defending Pac-12 South Division champions had their original opener against Arizona canceled last week when positive COVID-19 tests depleted Utah’s roster and left them under the conference’s 53-scholarship player minimum needed to play.

Coach Kyle Whittingham said earlier this week that scout-team players and walk-ons could start and that two of his position groups were still heavily impacted. The game was originally scheduled for Friday, but was moved back a day to give Utah more time to prepare.

“The difference is this week we have extra time to try and prepare some guys that have been getting zero reps because of their status on the depth chart,” Whittingham said. "Even though we don’t have a lot of guys at our disposal, we have time to get guys trained up as best we can.”

It was already going to be a different Utah squad from the one the Bruins faced the past couple of seasons. The Utes, who have the ninth-youngest roster in the Football Bowl Subdivision, returned only two starters on defense while quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss have graduated.

UCLA opened Chip Kelly's third year last week with a 48-42 loss at Colorado. It is the second straight week the Bruins have had to prepare for an opponent without much tape to view.

“I think when you get into the minutiae of that, they don’t have that many people out that have been reported,” Kelly said. “They provided a depth chart and it’s the same depth chart that they provided Arizona, but again, they have no tape this year, so it’s not like you can watch this year’s game and see who is playing."

ELIMINATE TURNOVERS

UCLA had 478 yards of total offense against Colorado but committed four turnovers that led to three Buffalo touchdowns. Kelly said ball security has been a point of emphasis this week.

“When you lose the turnover battle there’s a high percentage you’re gonna lose the game,” Kelly said. “We had a fumbled exchange, we have two ball carriers that lost the football and then we have an interception.”

WHO IS UTAH'S QB?

The Utes are expected to go with either graduate transfer Jake Bentley or sophomore Cameron Rising.

Bentley started 33 games at South Carolina and has completed 62.5% of his passes. Rising started his collegiate career at Texas before transferring to Utah and sitting out last season. Kelly said they have watched tape of Bentley to get a feel for his talent level, but they are also aware of Utah's tendencies as far as how he might fit into their offense.

ON THE RUN

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson last week became the first player in program history to throw for 300 yards and also rush for at least 100 yards in the same game. The junior — who had 303 yards passing and 109 yards rushing — committed two turnovers but showed better command of the offense with three of the scoring drives lasting four plays or fewer.

While Thompson-Robinson is showing more flashes as a dual-threat quarterback, the Bruins are hoping to get the rest of their running game on track. Demetric Felton Jr. had 57 yards on 10 carries but wasn't used much because of the early deficit.

WHO HAS THE ADVANTAGE?

While Utah has tape of UCLA to formulate a game plan, the Bruins are largely in the dark. When it comes to which team is better off, Whittingham said both sides have strong cases.

“Typically, the old adage is you make improvements between Game 1 and 2, so they’ve got that on their side," he said. "As far as us, we have a full game tape to watch, study and analyze, while they have nothing on us yet this year, so who knows. There are advantages going both ways depending on how you look at it.”

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