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Utah vs. UCLA Football Prediction and Preview

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Utah vs. UCLA Football Prediction and Preview

Utah vs. UCLA Football Prediction and Preview

Editor's note: On Friday afternoon, the Pac-12 announced that Saturday's game between Utah and UCLA was canceled due to the Utes' ongoing COVID-19 issues. 

The Utah Utes finally get to start their season when they visit the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night.

The Utes' had their season debut pushed back after several positive COVID-19 tests forced them to cancel their home opener with Arizona last weekend. The Pac-12 then moved this game from Friday night to Saturday to allow the Utes more time.

Utah was picked third in the Pac-12 South this year after winning two straight division titles. The Utes are breaking in a new quarterback, running back, and secondary. This means Utah will need to overcome inexperience at numerous positions to not take a major step back from what they accomplished on defense and offense a year ago.

The Bruins (0-1, 0-1 Pac-12) have a few wrinkles of their own to smooth out. UCLA rallied from a 28-point deficit before falling 48-42 to Colorado in their season opener. The Bruins coughed up four first-half turnovers and gave up 525 total yards to the Buffaloes, offsetting a solid performance from junior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Colorado tailback Jarek Broussard burned UCLA for 187 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.

UCLA leads the series 11-7, although the Utes have had the upper hand in recent seasons. Utah has beaten the Bruins four straight years, averaging 47.5 per game during the winning streak. The Utes recorded their largest margin of victory in the series last season after demolishing UCLA 49-3 in Salt Lake City.

Utah at UCLA

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 7 at 10:30 p.m. ET

TV: FOX

Spread: Utah -3.0

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When UCLA Has the Ball

The Bruins' best chance to end their long losing streak against the Utes will hinge on how well they can attack a Utah secondary featuring five new starters. UCLA's offense is explosive enough to make good things happen if the Bruins can keep turnovers in check.

Dorian Thompson-Robinson did a little bit of everything against Colorado. He passed for 303 yards and four touchdowns and also rushed for 109 yards and another score. The junior struggled against Utah last season. He threw for 219 yards but also tossed a pair of interceptions and gave up a second-quarter fumble that Mika Tafua returned 68 yards for a score when the Bruins were threatening to score in the red zone. His mobility will be a concern for Utah's young defense if Thompson-Robinson can cut down on the mistakes.

For UCLA, generating a solid rushing attack will be necessary to keep the Utes from making Thompson-Robinson feel the heat for four quarters. Demetric Felton had some effective moments against the Buffaloes even with limited touches. Felton ran for 57 yards and a touchdown on only 10 carries. He also caught seven passes for 46 yards and another score.

When Utah Has the Ball

Kyle Whittingham has remained coy about who will take over for Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss on offense. Nothing has changed from what we saw on the depth chart a week ago. This week's depth chart listed three co-starters at quarterback and two co-starters at running back.

Utah's new starting quarterback – either redshirt sophomore Cam Rising or graduate transfer Jake Bentley – will have plenty of weapons in the passing game. The Utes return their top two receiving threats – Brant Kuithe and Bryan Thompson – from a year ago. Kuithe led the Utes with 602 receiving yards last season and Thompson is a speedster on the outside. Britain Covey is fully healthy again after a knee injury sidelined him last season. Covey led the Utes in receiving during each of his first two years in the program. Bentley is the most experienced signal-caller. He threw for 3,171 yards and 27 touchdowns with 14 interceptions for South Carolina in 2018. Rising has the sort of mobility, however, that fits well with Utah's offensive scheme.

Running back will be done by committee to start since none of Utah's top four running backs on the depth chart were able to create separation in preseason camp. Devin Brumfield and Jordan Wilmore will likely split the bulk of the carries. Brumfield is a bruiser between the tackles. Wilmore is a change-of-pace shifty back who can get to the edge. Micah Bernard and Ty Jordan are the other backs also in the mix. Multiple backs could be in for a big day running behind a veteran offensive line and against a weak UCLA rushing defense.

Final Analysis

Utah is guaranteed to feel some growing pains with an inexperienced roster that includes 41 true freshmen, 20 redshirt freshmen, and 20 sophomores. Having a game already in the books should work to UCLA's advantage. On the other hand, the Utes have used a consistent formula to dominate the Bruins over the past three seasons. Utah pounds the ball drive after drive and dares UCLA to stop it. The Bruins haven't succeeded in those endeavors and showed their run defense is still a work-in-progress against Colorado. That's bad news going up against a physical run-oriented team like Utah.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

Prediction: Utah 42, UCLA 31

Podcast: Week 11 Preview and Predictions

— 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.