SALT LAKE CITY — The Utes were looking to get back on track Friday night as they took on the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The game was tight into the first quarter but by the end of the first half, the Utes led 17-10. In the third quarter, Utah took complete control and outscored the Bruins 21-0, winning 48-17 to end a four-game losing streak.
To start, the Utes' offense looked much like it had in its last games. They were lethargic with broken plays and drives that couldn't be sustained. The first drive for Utah in the second quarter was awful. Three penalties on only four plays. But the Utes figured out some things after that. Matching up against one of the worst rushing defenses in the country, Utah handed the ball off more and more to Zack Moss to set the tempo and Tyler Huntley to mix it up. This amounted to 246 rushing yards and two touchdowns between the two players. Huntley was efficient throwing the football going 15 for 22 with four touchdowns through the air. This is the Utes' offense fans have been waiting for.
The Utes' defense set the tone early against the UCLA's ground game. The Utes allowed the Bruins to rush for just 134 yards, considerably better than in games past, especially since the Bruins needed to run the ball with starting quarterback Josh Rosen out of the game because of a concussion. However, the defense was not able to force any turnovers. They will need to create turnovers down the stretch if they want success against better teams that are looming.
Coming into the contest, special teams for the Utes led the nation in punt return defense. They showed why when Boobie Hoobs forced a fumble on a failed punt by UCLA, which resulted in great field position for the Utes. Furthermore, the Bruins had two punt returns for a total of -9 yards. Mitch Wishnowsky and Matt Gay continue to show they are foundation pieces for this program, as the latter made both field-goal attempts including a 50-yarder.
Early on, the sloppy play by the Utes looked all too familiar. The Utes had to burn two timeouts because of miscommunication and a slew of penalties that amounted to 10 points. Fortunately, offensive coordinator Troy Taylor started to find a rhythm in the second half, which resulted in 506 total yards for the game. Additionally, defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was able to contain the rushing attack for UCLA enough so the Bruins didn't break free around the edges. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham can build on this one, as the coaching staff was able to wake up the team at halftime.
The Utes did not feel sorry for the Bruins being sans-Rosen and have set themselves up to become bowl eligible if they can win one of the next three games. This game may restore confidence in the locker room as Utah prepares to ... fight, fight, fight (not literally) against Washington State! ... when the Cougars visit next Saturday.
Shane Reinhard is a graduate of Weber State University and a teacher and coach at St. Joseph Catholic High School in Ogden, Utah. Email: [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @hoopsters12.