Utah Utes football: Plot lines make for enticing matchup with Bruins
Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — While the weather outside may be frightful — cold and snowy, if nothing else — today's Utah-UCLA game at Rice-Eccles Stadium is fueled with plenty of storylines.
The plots include Utah offensive coordinator Norm Chow facing his employer from 2008-10 and a pair of 5-4 teams riding two-game winning streaks. Then there's subplots like quarterbacks Jon Hays and Kevin Prince; UCLA's quest for the Pac-12 South Division title; and bowl eligibility for the winner.
Chow, however, isn't getting caught up in all the variables. He's taking a bottom line view of things.
"It's all about Utah and UCLA football," Chow said. "That's all it's about."
Getting caught up in the past, he explained, is counter-productive to the task at hand.
"I've been a lot of places," Chow noted. "If I worried about all that stuff then goodness gracious."
Chow's well-documented departure from UCLA and head coach Rick Neuheisel, which includes a healthy contractual buyout by the Bruins, has made this game a highly anticipated matchup.
A war of words, however, has never materialized between the coaches.
"It's going to be fun to square off with Norm. He's a great coach and certainly I've enjoyed my relationship with him. I pull for him as often as I can (but) he will understand why I am not this weekend," Neuheisel told reporters earlier this week. "I've been with Norm in the locker room where he was playing people that he has worked with before. He is very professional and he keeps it all about the game at hand. So I don't know that it will have any extra umph for him, but everybody who competes likes to whip the people they used to work with."
With that angle seemingly on the backburner, there's still plenty of intrigue in the standings. UCLA is 4-2 in conference play and in a tie with USC and Arizona State for first place in the Pac-12 South. The Bruins control their own fate after defeating the Sun Devils last week.
Utah, meanwhile, has also enjoyed a recent run of success with two straight victories. The Utes can still finish with a winning league record by running the table against UCLA, Washington State and Colorado.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that both teams have started to pick up momentum as the season has progressed.
"It should be a great matchup," he said before adding that UCLA is playing with a lot of confidence. "That's the thing you can see now as opposed to early in the year. They're starting to believe and they play hard and they've got a good momentum thing going right now."
Saturday's winner becomes bowl eligible, while the loser will remain one win away.
Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who's highly touted run defense faces one of the Pac-12's top ground attacks, noted that both squads have good athletes and are physical.
"We'll see how we match up," Sitake said. "But I'm excited to see how our guys perform."
Quarterbacks on both sides will be in the spotlight. Prince is playing well for UCLA and Hays is getting the job done for Utah.
Whittingham said Hays is making good decisions and gaining confidence.
"Each week that's gone by — there's been some bumps in the road and a few steps back — but most weeks we've had Jon take his game to another level, a higher level."
Chow is also pleased. Hays hasn't had a turnover in his last two starts and Utah has won both games.
"I think he's done a terrific job. He manages the game very well," Chow said. "We're not expecting him to do any more than that and he's done a nice job."
Utes on the air
UCLA (5-4, 4-2 Pac-12)
at Utah (5-4, 2-4)
Today, 4:30 p.m.
Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City
TV: KJZZ Radio: 700AMHeady goes here
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