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UCLA Bruins vs. Utah Utes Preview and Prediction

Author:
Zack Moss

Zack Moss

Both Utah and UCLA find themselves in a precarious situation as the two teams clash this week.

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The Utes (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) have sunk to the Pac-12 South cellar amid a four-game slide. Utah hit its lowest point yet, falling to Oregon 41-20 after surrendering 347 rushing yards to the Ducks. Questions have arisen for the Utes on both sides of the ball and no easy solutions have appeared on the horizon.

The Bruins (4-4, 2-3 Pac-12) face the possibility of playing without star quarterback Josh Rosen. Success for UCLA this season has come exclusively on Rosen's arm. He has helped compensate for an anemic running game and porous defense.

UCLA holds an 11-4 lead in the all-time series with Utah. The Utes have won two of the last three meetings, but have not beaten the Bruins at home since 2011.

UCLA at Utah

Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 3 at 9:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FS1

Spread: N/A

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Utah get the ground game going?

One staple of Utah's offense in past seasons has been a bruising rushing attack. The Utes are typically strong in the backfield, having churned out multiple 1,000-yard rushers over the past decade. This season, the running game has taken a few steps backward.

For Utah to get back on track in November, getting more consistent production out of the backfield is critical. The Utes have the tools to get it done. Zack Moss seemed poised for a breakout season a few weeks ago when he tallied a season-high 141 rushing yards against USC. Tyler Huntley also is a shifty and mobile quarterback who can make plays with his legs.

A major issue for Utah is struggles along the offensive line. The Utes returned only one full-time starter from a season ago and the lack of experience has been felt in run blocking. Run gaps aren't opening up frequently enough and pressure often develops too quickly for Huntley, Moss or other runners to make a play and pick up significant yardage.

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Playing against UCLA could be the cure for Utah's run game. The Bruins rank last in the Pac-12 against the run, allowing 307.13 rushing yards per game.

2. Will Josh Rosen be available to play?

Losing Rosen (right) to a shoulder injury ultimately derailed UCLA's season a year ago. History threatens to also leave the Bruins in a precarious spot this fall with the injury bug attacking Rosen once again.

UCLA QB Josh Rosen

Rosen did not practice on Monday after suffering undisclosed injuries in UCLA's loss to Washington on Saturday. He left the game against the Huskies after throwing for a career-low 93 yards and a touchdown on 12-of-21 passing. His status for Friday's game remains in doubt. Backup quarterbacks Devon Modster and Matt Lynch took all of the reps in practice with Rosen unable to participate.

Modster finished the game against the Huskies and threw for 77 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-12 passing. The redshirt freshman had appeared in only one other game this season, getting some mop-up time against Hawaii.

UCLA head coach Jim Mora said Rosen does not need to practice in order to play this week. Still, if he can't go, it would deprive the Bruins of their most reliable offensive weapon. Rosen leads the Pac-12 in total passing yards (2,713), passing yards per game (339.1) and total offense (333.9 ypg).

3. Will either defense get consistent stops?

Both Utah and UCLA lit up the scoreboard when the two teams met in Los Angeles a year ago. Joe Williams rushed for a school-record 332 yards to lead the Utes to a 52-45 victory. It's a safe bet that more scoreboard fireworks are on the way this season.

The Bruins possess the worst all-around defense among Pac-12 teams. UCLA allows a league-worst 487.5 yards per game and yields 37.6 points per game, ahead of only Oregon State. In four losses, the Bruins have allowed opponents to score 49.3 points per contest.

Utah's defense dropped off a cliff over the last half of October, largely because the Utes have struggled to stop the run. Utah has allowed 224.4 rushing yards per game against Pac-12 opponents. Lingering injuries to key defensive players like Bradlee Anae, Kylie Fitts, Chase Hansen and Sunia Tauteoli have been part of the problem.

Final Analysis

It isn't too dramatic to say the season hangs in the balance for both teams on Friday. Both Utah and UCLA likely need a win here to qualify for a bowl game. The loser could very well finish the season without six wins, since both teams have tough opponents still ahead. With Josh Rosen questionable to play, this seems like the best remaining chance for the Utes to turn things around.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

Prediction: Utah 27, UCLA 24

— 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.