Utah football: Utes fall short in upset bid against No. 12 UCLA
Matt Gade, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Despite six interceptions, Utah’s annual blackout game nearly turned out to be a bright affair for the Utes. In the end, though, shortcomings on offense proved costly as 12th-ranked UCLA prevailed 34-27 in a hard-fought Pac-12 contest at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
A late Utah drive ended with an interception inside the UCLA red zone by linebacker Myles Jack in the closing seconds, thwarting the comeback bid and dropping the Utes to 3-2 overall and 0-2 in Pac-12 play.
"I'm proud of the way our guys played," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "They played exceptionally hard."
They’re now 4-7 at home against conference opponents since joining the league in 2011. UCLA becomes the seventh Pac-12 team to win on Utah’s home field since the Utes made the switch from the Mountain West Conference, joining Washington, Arizona State, Colorado, USC, Arizona and Oregon State.
Utah hosts fifth-ranked Stanford on Oct. 12.
It didn’t take long for UCLA (4-0, 1-0) to score its first touchdown in Salt Lake City since a 27-14 win in 1974. The Bruins, who managed only field goals while being outscored 75-12 in losses up on the hill in 2007 and 2011, reached the end zone on the game’s opening possession.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Jordan James capped a 10-play sequence with 11:32 remaining in the first quarter. James scored on fourth down after three consecutive stops near the goal line by Utah’s defense. UCLA moved into scoring position when Hundley connected with Paul Perkins on a 44-yard pass.
Trailing 7-0, the Utes retaliated quickly. They matched the touchdown four plays later on a 54-yard scoring strike from Wilson to Dres Anderson.
The standstill held firm until the final minute of the opening quarter. That’s when Utah pulled ahead with a 6-yard touchdown toss from Wilson to Sean Fitzgerald.
Early in the second quarter, UCLA evened things up once again. The Bruins used a little trickery as wide receiver Devin Fuller threw a 7-yard TD pass to Hundley.
With the score knotted at 14-14, Utah turned the ball over on its ensuing drive. Wilson was intercepted by UCLA safety Randall Goforth. He returned it to the end zone, but an illegal block penalty brought the ball back to the Bruins’ 37-yard line. Seven plays and 3:16 later, UCLA cashed in on the takeaway. A 17-yard touchdown pass from Hundley to Jordan Payton put the Bruins in the lead once again, midway through the second quarter.
Before the half was complete, however, Utah closed the gap to 21-17 on a 44-yard field goal by Andy Phillips.
Unlike the first two quarters, the second half was much less of a shootout. Defense, in fact, proved dominant in the third quarter — especially for UCLA. The Bruins picked off Wilson three times.
UCLA failed to capitalize on two of the turnovers. The only points the Bruins scored followed the pick by Jefferson. It led to a 33-yard field goal from Ka’imi Fairbairn that increased their lead to 24-17.
Utah averted additional damage from the miscues thanks to a defensive effort that held UCLA to 20 yards of offense and just one first down in the third quarter. The Utes’ defense eventually cashed in early in the fourth. Cornerback Keith McGill recorded a pick-six when he intercepted a throw by Hundley and returned it 19 yards for a touchdown. Phillips added the PAT to tie the score with 13:23 remaining.
It stayed that way until Fairbairn gave the Bruins a 27-24 edge with a 47-yard field goal a little less than five minutes later. The kick put them ahead for good.
Utah’s late bid for a comeback was thwarted by Wilson’s fifth interception — a pick by Jefferson that set up a 36-yard touchdown run by Hundley that sealed the outcome with 3:33 left to play.
"I want to commend Utah. We knew coming in that they were an excellent football team and that certainly proved to be true," said UCLA coach Jim Mora. "They're disciplined; they're tough; they play inspired. It's the type of team you love to compete against because you know that you are going to have to give everything that you've got and they did a heck of a job."
The Utes made things interesting down the stretch. They cut the deficit on a 37-yard field goal by Phillips with a little more than two minutes to go and then recovered an onside kick. Fitzgerald gave Utah possession near midfield, setting the stage for a dramatic conclusion.
The drama went right down to the wire. The Utes converted on fourth down once and moved to the UCLA 23-yard line before Wilson’s sixth interception ended the attempted rally. The Bruins then snapped the ball once before time expired.
"It's amazing we had a chance there at the end. We came up short," Whittingham said. "I was very proud of our defense in the second half. Our defense was dominant in the second half."
UCLA wound up with 404 yards of total offense (133 in the second half). Utah finished with 387.
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