Unbeaten UCLA faces its toughest test yet when it hosts defending Pac-12 champion Utah in the Rose Bowl on Saturday.
The No. 18 Bruins (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) are off to their best start since 2013 after beating then-No. 15 Washington 40-32 to close out September. UCLA has been efficient and potent on offense in running up an eight-game winning streak dating back to last season. The Bruins have not committed a turnover over their last two games while averaging 507 yards and 42.5 points in that stretch.
The No. 11 Utes (4-1, 2-0) will make it tough for UCLA to play error-free football for a third straight week. Utah forced four turnovers in a 42-16 victory over Oregon State last weekend. Clark Phillips III led the way with three interceptions — including a pick-six. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense (14.4 ppg), passing defense (155.4 ypg), total defense (278.6 ypg), first downs allowed (14.4), and opponents' third-down conversion rate (28.8 percent).
UCLA leads the all-time series 11-8, but Utah has won five straight contests against the Bruins dating back to 2016. The Utes have averaged 46.8 points per game in those five victories.
No. 11 Utah at No. 18 UCLA
When Utah Has the Ball
On the heels of a 1,000-yard rushing season, Tavion Thomas has lost his grip on his position as Utah's primary running back. Thomas split carries evenly with Jaylon Glover and Micah Bernard against Oregon State. Each back got six carries and none tallied more than 20 yards on the ground. Since opening the season with 115 yards against Florida, Thomas has seen his production decline. If it continues he could yield his starting spot to Glover or Bernard permanently.
Cameron Rising ended up being Utah's main running threat last week, running for 73 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Rising also threw for 199 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon State while completing a season-high 76 percent of his pass attempts. His steady efficiency and ability to extend plays have helped Utah's offense not skip a beat. Rising has thrown just two interceptions this season and is third in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency (166.01).
Rising spread the ball around to nine different receivers against the Beavers — a promising development as the offense adjusts to life without injured tight end Brant Kuithe. Devaughn Vele is leading the way. Vele put up a season-high 94 yards on seven catches against Oregon State and has 157 yards on 13 receptions through two Pac-12 games. Jaylen Dixon scored a pair of touchdowns — one rushing, one receiving — against the Beavers, giving Utah another emerging playmaker downfield.
When UCLA Has the Ball
Dorian Thompson-Robinson is finally reaching his full potential as a quarterback. The fifth-year starter has impressed with his command of the offense in his final season. Thompson-Robinson threw for a season-high 315 yards and three touchdowns against Washington. He completed 73 percent of his passes against the Huskies and leads the Pac-12 in completion percentage (74.3) this season. Thompson-Robinson also tops the league in pass efficiency (171.4), having thrown just one interception this year and none since the opener against Bowling Green.
Zach Charbonnet's consistent production in the backfield is contributing to Thompson-Robinson's effectiveness as a passer. Charbonnet is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and leads the Pac-12 with 140.0 all-purpose yards per game. He had a season-high 124 rushing yards against Washington and has three 100-yard games so far. The senior is a true barometer of success for UCLA. The Bruins are 10-0 over the past two seasons in games where Charbonnet rushes for 100 or more yards.
Utah has dominated UCLA on both sides of the ball in recent years. The Utes have tallied a combined 15 turnovers over their last five games in the series and have routinely gashed the Bruins with their powerful running attack. Utah has a potent offense to match its punishing defense which spells trouble for a Bruins' team that has struggled to slow the Utes down in the past. UCLA has made great strides over the past two seasons, but the Bruins haven't quite closed the gap enough to end their five-game skid against the Utes.
Prediction: Utah 38, UCLA 24
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
*Price as of publication.