We may not find out for a while whether or not Kyle Whittingham was the one who called for a fake punt from inside his own 25 yard line, but it certainly summed up No. 7 Utah’s night against UCLA that the eventual turnover on downs resulted in no harm at all and actually worked out in the Utes’ favor six plays later.
Such has been life for most of the past month for the most dominant team West of the Mississippi as Utah trounced the Baby Bruins 49-3 on Saturday night in a throughly overwhelming outing in Salt Lake City.
Outside of that lone special teams gaffe, things otherwise went swimmingly for the home squad. QB Tyler Huntley was 14-of-18 for 335 yards and two scores through the air while rushing for another score in an impressive outing for the senior. Fellow member of the backfield Zach Moss wasn’t too shabby either with 127 yards on just 17 carries to go along with the tailback’s two trips into the end zone and another 73 yards receiving.
That one-two punch was good for the Utes… but perhaps the team’s defense was even better on the night as they forced five turnovers, held UCLA under four yards a play and recorded five sacks. The Bruins mounted seven dries inside their opponent’s 40 yard line and yet game away with just three points. Those giveaways played a role but so too did the tenacious tackling and ability to bend a little yet not come anywhere close to breaking.
As you can expect, that resulted in a very forgettable game for what had been one of the more improved teams in the conference the past month or so. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson had a rough outing in particular with 219 yards passing but a pair of both picks and fumbles, including more than one in the red zone. RB Joshua Kelley managed 78 yards on the ground, which was impressive given what the Utes were allowing coming in but that was about it.
In addition to stifling late season momentum under Chip Kelly and putting UCLA’s bowl hopes on thin ice, the final score also took the Bruins’ hopes of somehow winning the Pac-12 South out of their hands. Utah hasn’t quite clinched the division yet due to their tie-breaker loss to USC earlier in the year but they remain firmly pointed at a date in Santa Clara against fellow one-loss contender No. 6 Oregon for the conference title.
Who knows, given Tua Tagovailoa’s injury for No. 5 Alabama, it’s possible that the Utes even move up a spot or two in the rankings as well. They certainly will have earned it the way they’re are playing as they remain the buzzsaw nobody wants to face at the moment given how well things are going on both sides of the ball.
In the past month or so of Pac-12 play, no team has been quite as dominant as No. 7 Utah has been. In the same span, no team has looked more improved than UCLA.
The two clashed on Saturday night in Salt Lake City and staged a rather interesting battle for the top of the Pac-12 South standings, with the Utes jumping out to a 28-3 halftime lead over the pesky Bruins in what is shaping up to be a defining game for both sides the rest of the month.
UCLA had their chances to make this far more interesting than the score would have indicated, having blown several opportunities inside their opponent’s 35 yard line (grand total of three points on four trips). Worst of all QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled while taking a sack, which Mika Taufa picked off the turf and rumbled 68 yards the other way. That turned a close game into a bit of a runaway in the final minutes of the second quarter and spoiled a solid initial effort for the Bruins offense that had nearly doubled (62 yards) the amount of yards rushing that the Utes normally allow for an entire game.
It took awhile for Utah’s offense to get warmed up just like their counterparts on the other side of the ball but when things started clicking, it was all coming downhill for the home squad. Tyler Huntley threw for 145 yards on just 11 attempts and scrambled for a touchdown run before the midway mark while tailback Zach Moss was already up 116 yards and two trips into the end zone on a robust 9.7 yards per carry (he also chipped in with two catches for 65 yards too).
This is a huge game for both sides and it will be interesting to see how each responds coming out of the locker room given how both are typically second half teams. UCLA is still fighting to get to a bowl game this season but will have their hands full trying to pull of another miraculous road rally in a chilly environment as Utah hopes to impress the CFP Selection Committee some more and tighten their grip on the division standings at the same time.
A few weeks ago when UCLA lost to Oregon State at the Rose Bowl, many called it rock bottom for the program. While that disappointing loss may have been labeled as such, the good news for the Bruins is that there was nowhere to go but up.
And up they’ve gone recently.
UCLA notched their second win in a row for the first time in two years on Saturday night in Pasadena, rocking No. 24 Arizona State by a deceiving close 42-32 margin on homecoming to signal that maybe there is progress being made under embattled head coach Chip Kelly.
Leading the way was not surprisingly the ground game. Tailback Joshua Kelley scored four times on his way to a 164 yard night, putting the game out of reach early in the third quarter. The running lanes were open for just about everybody as the team rolled to over two bills on the ground for the fourth straight game and milked the clock to the tune of 34 minutes. QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson also had a big game despite taking three sacks, throwing for 176 yards and two scores before leaving in the 4th quarter following a hit to his knee. He was replaced by backup Austin Burton, who didn’t throw a pass as the team the final ticks off.
An early fumble that gifted the Bruins points was a good sign that it just wasn’t ASU’s night. Freshman QB Jayden Daniels threw for 271 yards and three scores (rushing for 55 yards and another trip to the end zone) but it wasn’t enough as he was pretty much a one-man show for the most part in putting up most of his numbers when the game was out of hand. Eno Benjamin mustered just 46 yards on the ground while the defense gave up 27 first downs in the contest as they dropped their second in a row and play division leader USC next. It’s not often you win the turnover battle by +2 and get run out of the building but that’s exactly what the Sun Devils managed to do and will have to regroup quickly to put a stop to this recent slide.
UCLA however can celebrate this recent stretch as they continue to keep their slim chances for a bowl game alive at 3-5. They host Colorado next and end the year against in-state rivals Cal and SC (with a game against Utah sandwiched in there). Kelly’s team remarkably still has a shot at the Pac-12 South title and finally, at long last, are starting to show signs of taking steps forward rather than backwards in 2019.
Joshua Kelley was held mostly in check against Arizona State last season but he announced himself in a big way for their meeting in 2019, powering UCLA to a 28-7 halftime lead over the No. 24 Sun Devils and helping continue positive thoughts that his team has turned the corner under Chip Kelly in recent weeks.
The productive tailback recorded 100 yards before the break at the Rose Bowl and had three of his 17 touches go for touchdowns to pace the Bruins. His ability to run behind an offensive line that got some push up front in the first half also opened things up for his teammate in the backfield too as QB Dorian Thompson Robinson was an efficient 11-of-15 passing for 108 yards and a quick strike to Kyle Phillips with just 25 second left.
That entire offensive combination was a driving force behind the Bruins dominating the clock (over 19 minutes) and running almost double the number of plays as their opponent.
Despite the slow start, ASU is by no means out of this one completely. Freshman QB Jayden Daniels notched a touchdown run of his own and Herm Edwards’ offensive unit averaged just shy of six yards per play. A fumble hampered their efforts early and helped lead to points the other way but there were a few positives to build upon if they can eliminate mistakes like penalties (six of them in the first half) and actually get some stops on defense.
The Sun Devils can’t afford to drop another conference game if they want to keep their slim division hopes alive while UCLA needs every game they can get their hands on if they want to both exceed their win total from last season or make a bowl game. There could be a big second half ahead from the Rose Bowl as a result with the sun setting on the San Gabriel Mountains and #Pac12AfterDark getting fully underway in a key Pac-12 South battle.
If Michigan wants to make it to the Rose Bowl in the near future, they’ll have to do so by overcoming long odds and winning the Big Ten to make it to the Granddaddy of Them All.
That’s the result of the school announcing on Friday that they have terminated a future home-and-home series with UCLA for 2022 and 2023. At the heart of the move is a purely financial motivation: the Wolverines want to have seven home games both years and needed to axe the Bruins from the slate in order to do so.
As a result of the changes, Michigan has announced that they have replaced the UCLA series with a game against Hawaii for Sept. 10, 2022 at the Big House and will host another Group of Five program in East Carolina on Sept. 2, 2023.
The Wolverines do have high-profile meetings with Washington, Texas and Oklahoma still on the schedule in the 2020’s but the decision to end the games against UCLA still leaves non-conference openings in both 2022 and 2023 for the program. Could that be a potential opening for continuing their series with Notre Dame?
We’ll probably find out more on that front down the road on that front but for now we’re left with the maize and blue avoiding the powder blues on the field in an unfortunate move for fans of both sides.