Gameday predictions: UCLA vs. Utah
Pictured are UCLA football redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (left) and Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (right). (Photos by (left to right): Jason Zhu/Daily Bruin staff, Jeremy Chen/Assistant Photo editor. Photo illustration by Maya O’Kelly/Design director)
Prediction: UCLA 27, Utah 41
Five Pac-12 teams occupy a spot in the national rankings.
And while the AP poll might disagree, none are currently better than the No. 11-ranked Utes.
One lone blemish in its first game of the season stands between Utah and a spot in the top five (and the College Football Playoff conversation). But the Utes’ week-one upset loss to Florida in a packed stadium in Gainesville shouldn’t detract from this team’s prowess.
Led by last year’s Pac-12 Coach of the Year in Kyle Whittingham, Utah is averaging 42 points per game and boasts the best defense in the conference by a significant margin. From top to bottom, this is likely the best team UCLA will play all season.
The Utes lost some talent on the defensive end, but this is largely the same team that won the Pac-12 and gave Ohio State a run for its money in a 48-45 Rose Bowl loss last season.
That’s not even mentioning the fact that Utah has had UCLA’s number of late. The last four matchups between the two teams have all gone to the Utes by an average margin of defeat of 32 points, headlined by a 49-3 loss in 2019.
While I truly believe this is a different UCLA team than the ones that have routinely gotten blown out by Utah, a win of this caliber seems out of reach for this group right now. Redshirt senior quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson is playing the best football of his career and is at his best in big games, but he has yet to face a defense this formidable.
The Bruins can celebrate their return to the rankings, but the Utes are the best team in the conference right now and will make that known Saturday.
Daily Bruin senior staff
Prediction: UCLA 30, Utah 28
The crowd plays an underrated role in football, and that’s exactly what will power the Bruins to their highest-ranked regular season win in 12 years.
Packing the Rose Bowl has been easier said than done this year. After setting a record-low attendance in its first game of the season with 27,143 fans, UCLA almost broke it again two weeks later.
Even against then-No. 15 Washington last Friday, attendance sat at just over 41,000. For reference, USC has averaged a crowd of 56,215 this year.
But after UCLA’s showing on the field last week, I’m predicting The Den will follow.
Especially after reducing the stadium capacity with a second tarp this year, the Bruins could reach near-capacity at 53,390 considering they were unranked when almost 70,000 flocked to watch them take on LSU before the school year even started.
Granted, much of the stands were littered with purple and gold. But the win over the Tigers was the most electric football environment I’ve experienced, proving why the Rose Bowl is known as one of the premier stadiums in the country.
With another booming presence from the crowd, the blue and gold can produce a repeat of last week and then some.
Whereas it was Washington’s offense that generated buzz, Utah represents the toughest defense UCLA has faced this season, having allowed 43 combined points across its last four games. But in their season-opening loss to now-unranked Florida, the Utes allowed four rushing touchdowns – including three to Gator quarterback Anthony Richardson – and rank in the middle of the Pac-12 in rushing defense through five games.
As long as it minimizes its mistakes against a stifling pass defense while not losing steam on defense, the blue and gold has shown it can beat teams on the ground.
While Thompson-Robinson might struggle to get things going in the passing game, it will be his and senior running back Zach Charbonnet’s legs that will help the Bruins get their second straight upset – but they’re going to need some help from the stands.
Assistant Sports editor
Prediction: UCLA 21, Utah 34
The top two offenses in the Pac-12 battled it out at the Rose Bowl last Friday.
On Saturday, the same venue will play host to the conference’s premier defensive units.
In its upset win over then-No. 15 Washington, UCLA demonstrated it has the offensive firepower to outscore some of the nation’s most prolific scorers. Charbonnet gobbled up heaps of yardage while Thompson-Robinson made Husky defenders look silly on multiple occasions.
The winning caliber shown by the Bruins under the spotlight was not unlike last season’s triumph over LSU, which analysts and fans alike touted as coach Chip Kelly’s signature win of an otherwise poor tenure in Westwood. The Tigers would go on to finish sub-.500 and fell comfortably out of the rankings, and the win didn’t age like the finest of wines.
It remains to be seen if the same narrative will play out for Washington, but one thing is certain: Utah is a whole different animal.
The Utes are the lone Pac-12 squad allowing less than 200 passing yards per game and lead the conference in scoring defense, with 14.4 points allowed per game over the first five weeks of the season. Offensively, Utah quarterback Cameron Rising – the only conference foe ranked above Thompson-Robinson in total quarterback rating – may pose even more of a threat than Washington signal-caller Michael Penix Jr. thanks to his versatility.
To knock off the conference’s cream of the crop, UCLA will need to pound the ball down the throat of the Utes’ defense early and often. Charbonnet, who racked up 124 rushing yards against Washington, should be entrusted to stay hot with the rock against a Utah defense that allows comparatively more yards per game on the ground. A smattering of chunk plays from redshirt senior wide receiver Jake Bobo certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
Should the Bruins upend the reigning Pac-12 champs, consideration for a top-10 ranking becomes a very real possibility – something the blue and gold haven’t sniffed in over seven years. And although last Friday proved the Bruins weren’t just beneficiaries of a cupcake schedule, there is no prove-it game remaining on their schedule quite like this one.
But it’s the Utes who will prove why they’re the top dog in the Pac-12.
Assistant Photo editor
Prediction: UCLA 48, Utah 45
It’s hard to not root for Utah on this one.
Aside from the Utes’ recent record against the Bruins and their top-15 rank in offense and defense, Utah will always have a special place in my heart.
I was privileged to travel to Salt Lake City last year to shoot the Pac-12 gymnastics championships with renowned Sports editor Sam Settleman and Sports staffer Nico Edgar – both members of Gymternet royalty. Utah was also the site of my first solo football game, a trip I got to take with then-Sports editor Jon Christon, a legend in his own right.
The Utes prevailed in both contests, and there’s no logical reason why they shouldn’t win this Saturday at the Rose Bowl. They’re ranked higher than the Bruins nationally, and they have a five-game streak of beating UCLA.
But since I’m only entering my third year at UCLA, I have just enough blind faith and optimism left in the tank to choose the Bruins.
Sure, UCLA’s loss to Fresno State last year was absolutely heartbreaking, and the interception in the fourth quarter of the 2021 Oregon game made me die a little inside, but why not cheer for the home team one more time?
Last week’s victory against Washington showed flashes of UCLA’s potential, and the Bruins have scored 32 points or more in every game this season. The blue and gold is riding a five-game winning streak, Thompson-Robinson is coming off one of the best games of his career, and I’m sure UCLA’s reentry into the national rankings will bring more of the Bruin faithful back to the Rose Bowl stands.
So I’m going to disregard logic, place one more game’s worth of faith into this football team and hope that my first Sports byline gives the Bruins a bit of luck.
When the blue and gold come out on top tomorrow, just remember that UCLA wins 100% of the games I write predictions for.