PASADENA, Calif. — Utah's first appearance in the Rose Bowl since 2006 is a big deal for the players. Most have never had the opportunity to play in the historic stadium, including Southern California native John White.
"It's definitely a thrill for me. It's my backyard so we've got to go play football and have a good time doing it," said the senior running back. "It's going to be pretty cool for me. So I can't wait."
Sophomore tight end Jake Murphy is also looking forward to the opportunity.
"You're excited to go to a place like this," Murphy said. "I remember going to USC last year — everyone was excited — but we've traveled to big stadiums before."
This trip, however, carries a sense of urgency. The Utes and UCLA both enter Saturday's game with two conference losses.
As such, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham notes that each team is in need of a win. Another setback would darken already-dim Pac-12 South title hopes.
"Obviously it's a big game for both teams," Whittingham said.
After back-to-back losses to Arizona State (37-7) and USC (38-28), the Utes (2-3, 0-2) are determined to turn things around quickly.
"We've got to get this one," Murphy said. "It's an important game."
Utah is in the midst of a challenging stretch of conference games. The Utes visit 10th-ranked Oregon State next Saturday.
"Our football team showed definite improvement last week against USC and we need to build on that," Whittingham said as the Utes prepared to face the Bruins (4-2, 1-2). "... Our players and coaches are working hard on getting the season turned around and getting back on track."
The contest features a pair of talented senior running backs. White is the Pac-12's top returning rusher from 2011 and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin is this season's current leader with 799 yards.
Although an ankle injury has hampered White this season, keeping him out of the BYU game and limiting him to 301 yards on the season, he looked healthy last week against USC — rushing for 68 yards on 13 carries.
Despite regaining the form that led to a school-record 1,519 yards a year ago, White isn't focused on individual success.
"It's team first," he said. "As long as we're winning games that's all that matters to me."
Although Utah defeated UCLA, 31-6 last season in Salt Lake City, the Bruins have a different look under new head coach Jim Mora.
"They look more disciplined this year," White said.
Mora has instilled confidence into the program. He said it's something the Bruins and their high-energy offense needs to have against the Utes' defensive front and tackle Star Lotulelei.
"Those guys pose a huge challenge to us up front," Mora said, while noting that his team cannot afford to be intimidated.
After all, as is the case with Utah, a third conference loss is a high price to pay at his point in the season.
Utes on the air
Utah (2-3, 0-2)
at UCLA (4-2, 1-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m. MDT
Radio: 700 AM