Utah Utes football: Utes fall 21-14 at UCLA, starting QB Travis Wilson fails to sway a change in direction
The loss drops Utah to 2-4 overall and 0-3 in Pac-12 play. It also spoiled true freshman Travis Wilson's debut as the Utes' starting quarterback.
"We obviously came up short. The guys played hard, again. This team has no shortage of effort or toughness," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who added that his team has a bunch of guys who fight for the full 60 minutes. "However, we've got to play smarter at times. We've got to be more productive."
The main issue, he acknowledged, is on offense. Utah's first score came on a fumble recovery by the punt cover team. The offense didn't produce any points until late in the fourth quarter.
"There's no secret that we've got to get better. You're not going to win many football games scoring one touchdown," Whittingham said. "We've got to find a way to get that solved. That's really where we're at."
Things started off positively. After forcing UCLA to punt on the game's opening possession, Utah opened the Wilson era with positive yardage on five consecutive plays.
Then came trouble. Strong safety Andrew Abbott intercepted a deflected pass on the UCLA 31-yard line and a sustained drive followed. A 12-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brett Hundley capped a 13-play sequence that took 5:49 off the clock.
It also ushered in a wild exchange of scores.
Utah's special teams delivered the initial blow when UCLA's Steven Manfro muffed a 65-yard punt by Sean Sellwood near the goal line. The ball wound up in the end zone and Ryan Lacy took possession of it for a touchdown.
"It was a great feeling," Lacy said while crediting teammate Reggie Topps for his assistance in the "effort" play.
The 7-7 tie didn't last long, however.
UCLA regained the lead just over one minute later when Hundley connected on a 64-yard scoring strike to Shaquelle Evans. A scoreless second quarter followed, leaving the Bruins with a 14-7 advantage at the break.
It stayed that way until UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin scored on a 3-yard run with 6:04 to go in the third.
Utah's response was slow in coming. The Utes, however, eventually cut the deficit in half when Jon Hays threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dres Anderson with 3:16 remaining. Hays, a senior who was benched in favor of Wilson after three starts, entered the game on fourth down after his replacement's helmet came off. NCAA rules require that players whose helmets come off must sit out the next play.
UCLA ran all but one second of the remaining time off the clock to ice the outcome. A final play by Utah failed as the Bruins improved to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the Pac-12.
"This was a hard-fought game against a conference and division opponent. We needed a tough game like that. Games like that build character," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "I'm proud of the ways our guys bounced back from a tough loss (at California) last week."
Utah, though, is still searching for answers. The Utes failed to stop UCLA on 10 third-down situations and had a tough time containing Hundley, who finished with 183 yards passing and 68 on the ground.
"He's elusive but we made him appear more elusive than he is because we were not disciplined in our pass rush lanes," Whittingham said. "We've got to maintain leverage and maintain our spacing in the front and we didn't do that enough of the time."
Lacy noted that missed tackles were also factor.
"(It's) soemthing we need to work on," said the senior cornerback. "Missed tackles will lose a game instantly."
As for Utah's offense, Wilson wasn't content after completing 23-of-33 passes for 220 yards.
"We've just got to get better and I'll take that on me, too," Wilson said.
Things won't get any easier schedule-wise. The Utes face 10th-ranked Oregon State next Saturday in Corvallis. The Beavers are coming off a 42-24 win at BYU.
"(There's) no time to lick our wounds," Whittingham said. "We've got to come back and regroup and keep searching for answers to our problems."
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