The Bruins will be facing a new challenge under the Friday night lights this week.
No. 23 Utah (5-2, 3-2 Pac-12) is next up on the slate for UCLA football (2-5, 0-2), the first of three ranked opponents the Bruins have remaining on their schedule. Up to this point, UCLA has played just two teams currently in the rankings – No. 8 Oklahoma and No. 15 Washington – and it lost those games by a combined 35 points.
The Bruins may be on a two-game winning streak, but their past two opponents are a combined 3-6 in conference play and 7-8 overall.
The Utes were also the only Pac-12 team to win a bowl game last winter, while the rest of the conference finished 0-8 in their postseason matchups.
“(Utah coach) Kyle (Whittingham)’s got a really, really good program,” said coach Chip Kelly. “They got some really, really talented players in all positions. Sometimes, people have a strength in one particular area, but they are a really balanced team. … We’ve got to be prepared in all three phases.”
Kelly’s claim that Utah is a balanced team was seconded by the Pac-12 Player of the Week Awards that came out Monday.
After defeating USC 41-28 on Saturday, the Utes reeled in all three player of the week awards: quarterback Tyler Huntley for offense, linebacker Chase Hansen for defense and kicker Matt Gay for special teams.
Huntley is on pace to finish the season with 2,633 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns in addition to 411 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
Despite the dual-threat signal caller, Utah has primarily leaned on running back Zack Moss to carry its offense, with the tailback averaging over 19 carries per game so far this season.
“They’re a physical offense,” said sophomore safety Quentin Lake. “The running back’s very good, quarterback can throw the ball, they have size at the receiver position, so it’s just a matter of us being mentally ready.”
The Bruins have also leaned heavily on their lead rusher as of late.
Redshirt junior running back Joshua Kelley has racked up four straight 100-yard performances. Over that span, the UC Davis transfer is averaging 23.3 carries and 135.5 yards per game to go along with his five scores.
With a win, UCLA would jump Utah in the Pac-12 South standings and would take the division lead if USC loses to last-place Arizona State on Saturday. The increased stakes are there for the Bruins, but Lake said his team won’t approach this game any differently.
“It’s not more, ‘Oh my gosh, this is for the Pac-12 South championship,'” Lake said. “It’s more taking it game by game. We’re on a two-win streak, which is good, but we just have to think it’s another game.”
As for who he thought would come out on top, Lake made very simple prediction.
“Whoever can be the more physical team during this game will probably come out victorious,” Lake said.
Injury woes lingering
Ever since he left the game in the second quarter against Arizona, details have been hard to come by for freshman Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s injury.
The quarterback practiced on-and-off this week, and Kelly is yet to name a starter against Utah.
Should Thompson-Robinson miss the game, graduate transfer Wilton Speight is expected to get the nod for the Bruins.
Graduate transfer offensive lineman Justin Murphy will also miss the game against the Utes after undergoing season-ending surgery for the third consecutive year Wednesday.