We're definitely taking steps forward in a lot of areas. —Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — The last two times Utah played UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium, the Utes held the Bruins to a pair of field goals in each game, a grand total of 12 points, while scoring 75 themselves.
In both cases, the Utes were underdogs, which will be the case again Thursday night (8 p.m.) when the No. 12-ranked Bruins pay a visit to Rice-Eccles.
Coach Kyle Whittingham would love to hold the Bruins to six points again but knows it will be next to impossible against a potent offense that ranks No. 2 in the nation in total offense at 614 yards per game and No. 3 in scoring at 52.7 points per game.
“We're definitely taking steps forward in a lot of areas,’’ said Whittingham of his defense, which gave up 51 points to Oregon State in its previous Pac-12 game.
In each of the previous Utah-UCLA games in Salt Lake, in 2007 and 2011, the Bruins could only manage six points each time as the Utes won 44-6 behind Tommy Grady in ’07 and 31-6 behind the running of John White on a snowy night in November 2011.
GETTING BETTER: One of the places the Utes improved against BYU was in the secondary, which came up with an interception and helped force 30 incompletions.
“I think we've made strides,’’ Whittingham said. “We've got four or five guys that we feel comfortable with right now. The group has really separated itself.’’
Keith McGill and Davion Orphey are the starting cornerbacks, while senior Mike Honeycutt, who had a great game against BYU, is the starting nickelback. Redshirt freshmen Reggie Porter is also seeing a lot of minutes in the secondary.
Junior Eric Rowe and senior Michael Walker are solid as the starters at safety.
The Utes still rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in passing efficiency (10th) and passing yards defense (11th).
UTE NOTES: UCLA leads the series with a Utah 9-2 advantage. The other three games with UCLA in Salt Lake were all relatively low-scoring affairs as the Bruins won 16-9 in 1960, 14-11 in 1962 and 27-14 in 1974. Thursday’s game is the sixth annual “blackout game” where fans are encouraged to wear all black. Some bleacher seats, as well as standing-room-only tickets, are still available for the UCLA game. Contact the ticket office at utahutes.com or by calling 801-581-UTIX. Whittingham is looking for career win No. 75 this week. He is currently 74-33 in his ninth season. Punter Tom Hackett leads the Pac-12 in punt average at 43.4 yards per punt and is tied for the league lead in punts inside the 20-yard line with nine.