SALT LAKE CITY – Thanksgiving is still two weeks away, but No. 9 Utah has much on the table entering its final three games of the regular season. That vital homestretch starts Saturday night when the Utes host UCLA in a key Pac-12 South Division matchup.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FOX. LINE: Utah - 21
With five straight wins, Utah has a half-game lead over USC atop the South with the Bruins lurking another half-game behind. Then there’s the matter of the College Football Playoff rankings, where the Utes debuted at No. 8 a week ago in the inaugural ranks and moved up a spot to seventh on Tuesday, but winning the South and the ensuing Pac-12 Championship Game remain absolute musts for Utah to have any shot at making the CFP final four. “It’s easy (for us not to get caught up in the national rankings), because our focus and task is to get a win this week,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday at his weekly news conference. “No matter what you are ranked and no matter what the outside noise says, you can’t worry about that because no matter what it says, you have to win. That’s our whole focus.” UCLA, meanwhile, has won three straight after a 1-5 start, and with Utah and USC next on the schedule, coach Chip Kelly’s Bruins control their own South Division destiny as well.
ABOUT UCLA (4-5, 4-2 Pac-12)
Like the Utes, the Bruins are coming off a bye last week, and will be looking to continue their offensive roll as they lead the conference in points (37.0) and rushing yards (217.2) per game in Pac-12 play. Senior tailback Joshua Kelley leads the conference in rushing with 107.6 yards per outing and has totaled 466 yards and seven touchdowns during the Bruins’ three-game win streak. Dual-threat sophomore quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has averaged 237.7 yards of total offense has accounted for seven TDs during the team’s current run, and the Bruins’ defense has been better of late despite ranking in the conference’s lower half in points (32.0) and total yards (431.6) allowed per game.
ABOUT UTAH (8-1, 5-1)
The Utes were expected to field one of the nation’s top defenses, and it’s most definitely lived up to the billing with Utah ranking in the FBS top six in points allowed (12.2 per game), total yards allowed (246.3), rushing defense (56.0) and opponents’ third-down conversion percentage (27.9). Linebacker Devin Lloyd leads the team with 58 total tackles while defensive end Bradlee Anae has nine tackles-for-loss, including eight sacks. Offensively, senior quarterback Tyler Huntley leads the conference in passing efficiency (182.46 rating) with 11 TDs and only one interception while pairing with talented tailback Zack Moss to power the Pac-12’s leading rushing attack at 207.8 yards per game.
1. UCLA holds an 11-6 series advantage, but Utah has won three straight, including a 41-10 road romp last season, since the Bruins notched a 17-9 win in Salt Lake City in 2015.
2. The Utes are 5-0 at home this season and have won nine straight in Salt Lake overall – the program’s longest home win streak since a 21-game run from 2007-10.
3. The key matchup will feature Kelley and the Bruins trying to solve the Utes’ top-ranked national run defense, which has held seven of its nine opponents to 67 yards or fewer on the season.
PREDICTION: Utah 38, UCLA 13