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UCLA Bruins vs. Utah Utes Preview and Prediction

Author:
Jim Mora

Jim Mora

Three teams are still in the mix for the Pac-12 South divisional title. That number can be trimmed to two after this weekend when UCLA travels to face Utah.

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Even after losing to Washington State last weekend, the Jim Mora and the Bruins still control their own destiny in the Pac-12 South. If UCLA beats Utah and USC on the road the next two weeks, the Bruins will clinch a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Recent history suggests UCLA can get the job done. The Bruins have won eight of their last nine conference road games and 13 of their last 14 contests played away from the Rose Bowl.

Kyle Whittingham and Utah need a little help to clinch the division title after losing to Arizona last weekend. The Utes need to win out against UCLA and Colorado over the next two weeks. They also need USC to lose to either Oregon or the Bruins. Utah has been tough at Rice-Eccles Stadium this season. The Utes are 5-0 on their home turf, with wins over Michigan, Utah State, California, Arizona State and Oregon State.

UCLA leads the all-time series 10-3 between the two teams. Utah is 2-4 against the Bruins in Salt Lake City, winning games in 2007 and '11.

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UCLA at Utah

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)

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TV: FOX

Spread: Utah -2

Three Things to Watch

1. Booker sidelined

Utah running back Devontae Booker tied a school record against Arizona when he rushed for 145 yards to notch his 14th career 100-yard game. It came at a big cost to the senior. Booker suffered a knee injury in the second half against the Wildcats and underwent surgery to repair torn meniscus on Thursday. It means he will miss the rest of the regular season and is a long shot to return for Utah’s bowl game. Joe Williams will get the start in Booker’s place. Williams, a junior, has played sparingly in seven games and has tallied just 78 yards on 19 carries this season. Losing Booker is a huge blow to Utah's offense. He has averaged 130.9 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry against Pac-12 opponents this season.

2. Moving down the field

UCLA will definitely find ways to test Utah's defense. The Bruins have totaled more than 500 yards on offense in six games this season — a new school record. UCLA has eclipsed the 500-yard mark four times in the last five games and tallied 554 yards against Washington State last week. Paul Perkins became UCLA's all-time reception leader for running backs (71 catches) during the game. Perkins also rushed for 121 yards to notch his 11th career 100-yard game. Jordan Payton tied another school record with 14 catches. Payton has moved into second on school receptions list (187 catches) and is the 11th UCLA receiver to 2,000 receiving yards.

3. Kicking it in style

One of the more interesting battles between UCLA and Utah will be on special teams. Utes kicker Andy Phillips and Bruins kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn are two of the best in the nation. Phillips set a school record for career field goals with 58 against Arizona. The junior was three for three on his attempts against the Wildcats. He is 18-of-22 on field goals this season and 10-of-10 inside the 40-yard line. Fairbairn became the Pac-12’s all-time leading scorer after making a first quarter field goal against Washington State. He has made 19 of 20 field goals this season and have converted 18 straight. Fairbairn is the first player in Pac-12 history to score more than 400 career points (402).

Final Analysis

The stakes have never been higher in this series. Utah and UCLA both need a victory to keep their Pac-12 South title hopes alive. The Bruins have a definite edge coming into this game. Utah has lost its top offensive playmaker to a knee injury and UCLA's offensive engine is running at full speed. The Utes have a good enough defense to slow the Bruins down, but not enough offense without Booker to make it count.

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Prediction: UCLA 24, Utah 17

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.