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Football scouting report: Utah

Junior quarterback Troy Williams threw three interceptions in his second career start. Since then, Williams has thrown two more and strung together a group of solid starts. (Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Matt Joye

Oct. 20, 2016 10:39 p.m.

UCLA (3-4, 1-3 Pac-12) will have its annual showdown with No. 19 Utah (6-1, 3-1) Saturday afternoon at the Rose Bowl.

The Utes have been an AP Top 25 team for each of the last four weeks, even after suffering an upset against unranked Cal on Oct. 1. Meanwhile, the Bruins are mired in a two-game losing streak, and haven’t been ranked in the AP Top 25 since the preseason.

Despite the two teams’ disparate records and rankings, UCLA is actually listed as the favorite by all of the major gambling sites. As of Thursday afternoon, the point spread is UCLA -7.

To add more clarity to the pregame picture, here is a scouting report for Utah, which features a run-heavy offense and a depleted defense.

Utah’s offense
Base formations: Spread, pistol
Run-pass percentage: 60.4 percent run, 39.6 percent pass
Strength: Time of possession
Weakness: Deep passing, QB experience
X-factor: RB Joe Williams

Much has been made of Utah running back Joe Williams’ return from a recent retirement.

After missing four-straight games, Williams rushed 34 times for 179 yards against Oregon State last week. He was the workhorse lead running back that Utah envisioned him to be at the start of this season.

However, as good as Williams was against Oregon State, that game was hardly a stiff test. The Beavers rank near the bottom of the Pac-12 in run defense, allowing 5.2 yards per carry. The Bruins will provide a much stiffer test, as they have allowed just 4.0 yards per carry this year.

Last year, UCLA didn’t have much problem containing Williams and the Utah offense. Although Williams finished with 121 yards on 4.7 yards per carry, his productivity fell off significantly in the second half, when he rushed for just 8 yards over his final seven carries.

One key thing to watch for with Williams is his ball security. Over the course of his two-year career at Utah, Williams has had serious problems with fumbling the football. In his six career games with 10-plus carries, Williams has fumbled the ball in four – including last year’s 17-9 loss to UCLA.

That being said, Williams counterbalances his iffy ball security with his NFL-level speed. UCLA will need to keep Williams contained between the tackles, or else he could break out for one or two long touchdowns.

As for Utah’s quarterback situation, it is on rocky ground for yet another year. After quarterback Travis Wilson ended his underwhelming career last season, Troy Williams has come in this year and put up similar results.

In his second career start, the junior quarterback tossed three interceptions – including one in the red zone – that nearly cost his team a win against BYU. Since then, Troy Williams has strung together some improved performances, but he still seems to be more of a game manager than a game-breaking quarterback. Against UCLA’s stout secondary, Troy Williams could have a tough time keeping the Utah offense on the field.

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Utah’s defense
Base defense: 4-3 and 4-2-5
Blitz tendency: Medium to high
Strength: Cornerbacks
Weakness: Run defense
X-factor: FS Marcus Williams

This Utah defense is not what it was a year ago.

First of all, the Utes lost probably their best true pass rusher, defensive end Kylie Fitts, to a season-ending foot injury in the second week of the season. Then, Utah lost its best defensive player – and probably its best overall player – in defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei for a week to a shoulder injury.

Lotulelei has since returned, but his absence was certainly felt in the one game he missed – the Utes were upset by unranked Cal in that game.

With Fitts gone and Lotulelei beaten up, this Utah defense has a different identity than it did a year ago. Last year, the team was defined by its stout defensive front; this year, the team is more defined by its disciplined secondary, led by cornerback Reggie Porter and free safety Marcus Williams. Together, Porter and Williams have helped limit opposing quarterbacks to a 52.5 completion percentage, which ranks third-best in the Pac-12.

Whether or not Williams will actually play on Saturday is yet to be determined. He suffered an undisclosed injury last week against Oregon State and was not listed on the team’s depth chart this week. When Williams does play, he’s a ballhawk in the deep secondary – his three interceptions on passes of 15-plus yards last year tied for tops in the Pac-12.

With Utah battling a key injury on every level of the defense – starting linebacker Sunia Tauteoli was left off of this week’s depth chart as well – it appears as if UCLA’s offense could be at an advantage in Saturday’s game. The Bruins will certainly need to take advantage of a Utah defense that is uncharacteristically bad against the run (the Utes’ 4.3 yards allowed per carry ranks eighth in the Pac-12).

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Matt Joye | Alumnus
Joye joined the Bruin as a sophomore transfer in 2013 and contributed until after he graduated in 2016. He was an assistant Sports editor for the 2014-2015 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, baseball, softball, men's soccer, women's tennis, track and field and cross country beats.
Joye joined the Bruin as a sophomore transfer in 2013 and contributed until after he graduated in 2016. He was an assistant Sports editor for the 2014-2015 academic year and spent time on the football, men's basketball, baseball, softball, men's soccer, women's tennis, track and field and cross country beats.
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