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Utah Utes vs. UCLA Bruins Preview and Prediction

Joe Williams

Joe Williams

Can UCLA salvage its season and reach a bowl game? Such a question seemed unthinkable for the Bruins only a couple of weeks ago. Now after three losses in its last four games, UCLA (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) suddenly looks like a team facing the real possibility of finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2011.

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Turning things around against Utah won't be simple. The No. 19 Utes (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) are tied atop the Pac-12 South with Colorado even while dealing with a slew of injuries to several key players. Utah has been doing it with defense, holding opponents to 18.3 points and 342 yards per game.

UCLA leads the all-time series 11-3 and has won three of the last four meetings against Utah. It hasn't been easy. The last four games have been decided by an average margin of six points.

Utah at UCLA

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 4 pm ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: UCLA -7

Three Things to Watch

1 Will Josh Rosen be ready to go?

UCLA's offense is a whole different animal with Rosen on the sidelines. The sophomore quarterback did not play in last week's 27-21 loss to Washington State after getting injured late in a 23-20 loss to Arizona State a week earlier. Rosen did resume practicing on Wednesday, however, and head coach Jim Mora is hopeful he can return to action against Utah.

Rosen showed some obvious signs of struggling with his throwing shoulder before the game against the Cougars. If he isn't back to full strength yet, the Bruins will call on Mike Fafaul once again. Fafaul totaled 258 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions on 24-of-40 passing in his first career start against Washington State.

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If Rosen isn't available or is limited, that would deal a huge blow to UCLA. Last season, he threw for 220 yards and a touchdown to lead the Bruins to a 17-9 victory over Utah in Salt Lake City. Through six games this season, Rosen has thrown for 1,915 yards and 10 TDs while completing 59 percent of his passes.

2. What will Joe Williams do for an encore?

With injuries piling up in the backfield, Utah called on a former starter to deliver the team. Williams answered the call and came out of retirement to lead the Utes to a 19-14 victory over Oregon State. The senior rushed for 179 yards and a touchdown in his first game since early September — finishing just eight yards shy of matching his single-game career high.

Williams gave Utah's offense a much needed boost in a game where the Utes totaled just 42 passing yards. He had put football behind him and turned his focus to finishing his degree until the Utah coaching staff reached out and asked him to come back. Returning to the football field once more felt like the right decision for him given the situation the Utes were in with injuries.

“I made the decision more for the team rather than myself,” Williams said. “I put all the injuries and, I guess, selfish attitude aside and just put it on the line for them. And I'm going to do that for the rest of the season.”

3. Can UCLA fix its ground game?

Life after Paul Perkins has been tough for the Bruins. Midway through the season, UCLA features one of the worst rushing offenses in the nation. The Bruins rank last in the Pac-12 in both in rushing yards per game (91.1) and yards per carry (2.81). UCLA averaged just 21 rushing yards per game in the last two weeks against Arizona State and Washington State.

Utah isn't the best team to be facing with a running game that can't get out of the blocks. The Utes are allowing just 130.1 yards on the ground per game — a mark that ranks in the top 30 nationally. They have held five opponents under 150 rushing yards already this season.

The ability to stop the run lets Utah focus on defending the pass. It's one reason why the Utes lead the Pac-12 in interceptions (10) and are tied for the conference lead in total takeaways (17). Utah is expected to be without two defensive starters – Sunia Tauteoli and Marcus Williams – on Saturday, so forcing turnovers will be even more critical if the Utes hope to hold the Bruins in check.

Final Analysis

UCLA is a vastly different team with Josh Rosen at quarterback than it is without him. When Rosen is 100 percent, the Bruins' offense possesses true big-play capability. If he isn't available or is limited, UCLA struggles to move the chains period. Utah is banged up at many key positions, which is causing problems for the Utes on both sides of the ball. Still, Utah has just enough in the tank to scratch out a victory at the Rose Bowl for the second time in three seasons.

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Prediction: Utah 24, UCLA 23

— 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.