LOS ANGELES -- After splitting road games at Colorado and California over the last two weeks, the UCLA Bruins return to the Rose Bowl for a Pac-12 Conference game against the Utah Utes. The Bruins (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) will be looking for their first home conference win of the season in the noon game, nationally televised by Fox. Here are a few keys to the game:
1. Shining star
Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei is one of the top players in the country at his position. A 6-4, 320-pound tackle, Lotulelei is known to wreak havoc on opposing offenses with his combination of size and quickness. Last week against USC, he forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and had a tackle for a loss all in the first three minutes. UCLA’s young offensive line, with three freshmen and a sophomore starting, is coming off of a rough outing last week and can ill afford to have another against a player of Lotulelei’s caliber.
2. Get defensive
UCLA’s defense, especially the secondary, is reeling after last week’s 43-17 loss to California. The Bruins gave up four passing touchdowns in that game and have given up a Pac-12 high 10 touchdowns through the air this season. Eight of those have come the last three weeks and they include passes of 75, 42, 34, 32 and 31 yards. The Utes don’t have the standout receivers of Cal and Oregon State, but they do have a deep group that includes Dres Anderson, son of former UCLA receiver Flipper Anderson. Dres Anderson leads the team with 163 yards receiving. The Utes are No. 114 in the nation in total offense, so this is a good chance for the Bruins defense to rebound.
3. Come to pass
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley had the first real rough game of his young career when he averaged only 5.38 yards per pass attempt and had four passes intercepted last week. Utah has shown vulnerability against the pass in Pac-12 games, having given up 372 yards passing to Arizona State and 303 to USC. Both teams had three touchdowns through the air against the Utes, who rank No. 93 in the nation and No. 11 in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency defense. That bodes well for Hundley, No. 9 in the nation with 1,723 yards passing, to get back on track.
4. Stem the penalties
Entering Week 7, UCLA was leading the nation in both number of penalties (53) and yards penalized (519). Last week, when they were flagged 12 times for 99 yards, the penalties really hurt as they extended California drives and hindered some of their own. Utah’s defense is adept at drawing false start penalties with a technique called stemming, in which they unexpectedly shift, so the Bruins will have to be ready. UCLA committed six false starts against the Utes last year. USC had four false starts last week against Utah, Arizona State had three the week before and Brigham Young had eight false starts against Utah on Sept. 16.
5. The quarterback shuffle
Utah quarterback Jordan Wynn had to medically retire after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 2 and the Utes have struggled passing the ball since. Jon Hays, the starter for most of last season after Wynn was hurt in Week 3, took over as starter again but he has yet to pass for 200 yards in a game over his 12 career starts. Travis Wilson, a 6-6 true freshman with mobility, has played in certain packages as he’s learned the offense during the first half of the season but got his most extended time in the fourth quarter against USC and led an 11-play touchdown drive. He’s billed as the quarterback of the future and it appears the future could be arriving soon, so the Bruins will need to be prepared to see two quarterbacks.