UCLA is in need of a pick-me-up.
And they might have just found one. Maybe.
“We’ll see. I don’t think we’ll know until Saturday,” said coach Jim Mora about Josh Rosen’s status. “As much as you want to know and your readers want to know, I promise you, I want to know. Our team wants to know. We’re all hoping and crossing our fingers that he’ll play Saturday.”
If Wednesday’s practice is anything to go by, however, then there’s at least a glimmer of hope the sophomore quarterback could re-assume his position as UCLA’s (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) signal caller when the team faces off against No. 19 Utah (6-1, 3-1). For the first time since the loss against Arizona State, Rosen was spotted on the Intramural Field, dressed and participating in throwing drills.
In Rosen’s absence, redshirt senior Mike Fafaul has thrown for four interceptions thus far in the one game and one quarter the backup has featured in. And while Rosen has five picks to his name, those were recorded over a five-game-and-three-quarter stretch.
Since the Utes’ defense boasts the most passes intercepted of all teams in the conference, limiting the number of picks could play a key role in breaking this season’s trend of close losses. Look no further than the Bruins’ most recent game for a scenario in which an interception had game-changing consequences.
Down six in the final quarter, the Bruins’ final drive to salvage a win ended prematurely on a 33-yard throw that was picked off by Cougar safety Charleston White.
“I think you look back on our four losses, they’ve all come down to the last drive,” Mora said. “The four losses came down to us either not making a play or closing out a game.”
While the quarterbacks have had varying levels of success in limiting turnovers, they’ve suffered a similar issue of playing behind an offensive line that has thus far looked ineffective. UCLA has allowed the fourth most sacks in the league, including a 9-yard sack by Arizona State that has confined Rosen to the sidelines till Wednesday. In order to buy more time for the passer, the Bruins have responded with the quick fix of taking more snaps in the shotgun formation.
“There’s a lot of line movements so we want to get some separation in our pass game as well,” offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu said. “You’re always trying to get better. If you win games, you like (the change). But when you don’t win games, you gotta find if there’s something better.”
The odds may still look stacked against UCLA’s O-line as they go head-to-head against a Utah defense that ranks second in the Pac-12 with 20 sacks. Fifteen of those sacks have come from a physical defensive line led by defensive end Hunter Dimick – who has five to his own name.
“They do things well schematically but they hang their hat on being a physical team,” said offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for how they play. That’s something you don’t want to see on the West Coast that often.”
If UCLA wants to reverse its fortunes and snap its two-game loss streak, they’ll have to find a way to stop Utah’s physicality from reaching the man in the pocket, whether it’s Rosen or Fafaul.