Utah football: Utes prepared for UCLA's new offensive scheme
PASADENA, Calif. — UCLA's offense has picked up the pace under new head coach Jim Mora and former Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. The Bruins have spread things out and the change is paying immediate dividends. They enter Saturday's game against Utah with one of the Pac-12's top offenses, averaging 529 yards per game.
"It's a good scheme and they do a good job with what they have there," said Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who noted that UCLA's fast-paced attack uses the whole field and runs a lot of plays — forcing opposing defenses to use a lot of players to combat weariness.
Leading the charge is senior tailback Johnathan Franklin and freshman quarterback Brett Hundley. They've helped the Bruins rank among the conference's top five in rushing (224.4 ypg), passing (304.6 ypg), pass efficiency (140.62 rating), scoring (33.5 ppg) and total offense.
"There's a dramatic difference in scheme," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who added that UCLA's offense is now more like that of Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon — a team that spread things out with a good tempo.
Franklin is off to a strong start. The four-year veteran leads the Pac-12 in rushing with 799 yards, averaging 7.4 per carry.
"He's always been a dynamic running back and I like the way he runs," Sitake said. "He's really fast but he's got some power moves, too. He's a really good player."
While Franklin is on pace to become UCLA's all-time rushing leader, Hundley is just beginning to make his mark. Over six career starts, Hundley has passed for 1,733 yards and 13 touchdowns. He's also ran for 172 yards and four scores.
"Those dual-threat quarterbacks are always so dangerous and with a running back like Franklin we've got our work cut out for us," said Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. "... We've got to be real disciplined this week."
After giving up a combined 944 yards of total offense and 46 first downs in back-to-back losses to Arizona State and USC, Utah's defense is looking to get back on track.
"We know we're better than that as a defense. We know that we can play better than that," Lotulelei said. "It's all up to us. Our coaches put us in the best positions that they can, we've got to be the ones who go out there and make the plays."
The Utes allowed only 806 yards and 48 first downs over the first three games of the season.
Franklin and Hundley aren't UCLA's only offensive weapons Utah has to contend with this week. The Bruins have eight receivers with 10 or more catches this season. Junior Shaquelle Evans leads the group with 24 receptions, while senior Joseph Fauria has a team-high five touchdown catches.
UCLA's defense also has some players of note. Senior cornerback Sheldon Price has four interceptions, thus far, and sophomore free safety Tevin McDonald has recovered two fumbles and picked off a pass. McDonald's 37 tackles are second only to linebacker Eric Kendricks. The sophomore has made 49 stops and recovered a pair of fumbles.
"We have our work cut out for us," Whittingham said.
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