The UCLA offensive line had one of its worst performances of the season against Cal last weekend, struggling to keep its quarterback upright and avoid costly penalties.
The team gave up five sacks and accumulated three penalties in the loss.
Their struggles led to coach Jim Mora pulling redshirt freshman offensive tackle Torian White for the second half and moving sophomore lineman Xavier Su’a Filo from guard to tackle.
White was replaced by fellow redshirt freshman Ben Wysocki, who had a crucial holding penalty in the fourth quarter.
Mora would not say whether White would return to his starting role against Utah.
“I think it’s important that you’re always looking to upgrade your team and create competition,” Mora said. “If we can find a better combination, we’ll find it.”
Protection issues were one of the primary reasons for redshirt freshman quarterback Brett Hundley’s four interceptions on Saturday, but Hundley has faith that his line will hold up this week against a good Utah front seven.
“I trust in the offensive line,” he said. “You just have to believe and get the guys ready so whoever may be out there (is ready).”
Following UCLA’s 43-17 loss to Cal on Saturday, many questioned the lack of carries for redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin.
Mora admitted during Monday’s press conference that Franklin was not playing at 100 percent due to quad and calf contusions along with a bruised hand.
“He got dinged up, so in the second half he was pretty limited in the number of plays he could get it,” Mora said.
Franklin’s status for Utah is probable at this point, but he may be limited in practice during the week.
Star of the show
UCLA has faced quality defensive linemen through their first six games of the season, but none match the caliber of Utah’s Star Lotulelei. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive tackle is considered one of the best players in the nation.
“He’s one of the best defensive linemen I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Mora said. “He plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, he’s got great lateral quickness, he’s unbelievable off the snap in terms of explosiveness.”
Lotulelei has 22 tackles, five tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a sack so far this season despite facing relentless double and triple teams.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Hundley said. “But I think we’re up to the task. Saturday wasn’t the prettiest but we’ll be able to respond to it. We’ll get better from this and we’ll be better for it.”
Payton Manning Up
While the loss of redshirt freshman wide receiver Devin Lucien may have led to the experiment of freshman quarterback-turned-receiver Devin Fuller against Cal, one true freshman wide receiver stepped up to the plate ““ Jordan Payton.
Payton had his best game in the blue and gold, with three receptions for 41 yards including one of 28 yards in which he showed a bit of elusiveness after the catch.
“Whenever you get the ball you know you have to make a play, especially when you’re down. So that’s what I came out here with ““ with that mentality,” Payton said.
Payton’s continued progression adds an important element to the team with Lucien sidelined for the rest of the year.
“Each week I’ve gotten more and more playing time so this week I picked it up and I knew once I got the ball I had to keep going.”
But while he escaped Bears on the field, Payton almost became one himself. Payton committed to Cal, and Washington for that matter, prior to ultimately signing with UCLA mere moments before the signing day deadline.
“I have like 30 friends over there so it’s definitely good to see them and it’s a great win for them.”