Fool’s Gold? — UCLA’s Defense (still missing its 3 best players) holds Utah’s Offense to ZERO Touchdowns — IN Utah — and Bruin “replacement player” Jayon Brown recovers a fumble with 1:09 to go to preserve a 17-9 victory, but the Utes’ Offense was missing ITS two best players, so keep things in perspective as the Rivalry game approaches
No matter what, it is a solid accomplishment to beat Utah in Utah. They were ranked #13 in the Country, and have a decided home-filed advantage in the altitude of Salt Lake City. Not only that, but UCLA has a less-than-stellar record in the recent past in that state. So the last thing I want to do is DIMINISH today’s hard-fought 17-9 victory over the Utes. I just don’t want Bruin fans (or players) to be cocky or overly-confident going into the biggest game of the year. This was NOT the same Utah team that was Nationally ranked. Utah was missing their All-American-caliber Running Back Devontae Booker, who this season has accounted for 40% of his team’s Offensive production. Booker had surgery this week, and did not suit up on Saturday. On top of that, early in the game, the Utes lost their #1 Wide Receiver Britain Covey to an injury.
In defense of the Bruin Defense, they too are playing with several players who were back-ups two months ago. And considering that fact, the UCLA D still deserves huge props for their performance today. Even though they gave up about 200 yards rushing, they didn’t give up ONE SINGLE PLAY OF OVER 20 YARDS!! That is a helluva accomplishment, against ANY college Offense. The Bruins were hurt by the running and scrambling of Utah Quarterback Travis Wilson, who managed to get crucial first downs and move the chains. But when the Utes reached the Red Zone, the Bruin D shut them down every time.
UCLA started the game with a fantastic opening drive, culminating with a 37-yard Touchdown pass to Thomas Duarte. They added a Field Goal to take a 10-0 first quarter lead. Utah controlled the game for the next hour, but since they couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone, they were only able to cut the lead to 10-9, after three straight Field Goals. Then the Bruins responded with a crucial drive, polished off with a tough-as-nails TD run by Paul Perkins, who crossed the goal line on a second-effort and sheer desire. Perkins was keyed on all day by the D, but he still managed to gut out 98 yards on the ground. His TD gave the Bruins a 17-9 lead, and the UCLA Defense made it hold up.
Linebacker Jayon Brown, who is playing prominently because of Myles Jack’s season-ending injury, led the Bruins with 10 Tackles, and with 1:09 left and the Utes driving for a potentially game-tying score, recovered a fumble to clinch the victory. On the play, Booker’s back-up actually elbowed the ball out of Wilson’s hand. You can assume Booker would not have done that. I’m not saying Utah would have won if they had Booker, but it certainly is a legitimate possibility.
Brown was not the only hero for the UCLA Defense. Nate Meadors was phenomenal at Cornerback, breaking up two passes, covering tightly on several others, and even turning his head to find the ball instead of just playing the Receiver — something many Bruin D-backs have struggled with over the last few decades. Meadors also tallied 7 tackles. Safeties Randall Goforth and Jaleel Wadood were also indispensable today, combining for 14 Tackles, with Goforth adding an early fumble recovery. Aaron Wallace added 9 Tackles, including a Sack, and Eli Ankou broke up two passes, even though he is a Lineman.
The Bruin Defense was the story today, but the Offense also celebrated a couple of milestones — QB Josh Rosen extended his streak of passes without an Interception to 218, which is the longest streak in the Nation. Meanwhile, Jordan Payton became UCLA’s ALL-TIME leader in Receptions with 194.
The Bruin Special Teams deserve a mention too. Despite Ka’imi Fairbairn missing a 49-yard FG, barely — a very rare occurrence this year that can be easily forgiven — the Special Teams came through with Matt Mengel’s great punting. And even better, the UCLA Punt Coverage — which is #1 in the entire Nation — was awesome.
Speaking of awesome, Oregon Ducks QB Vernon Adams Jr. threw SIX TOUCHDOWN PASSES against u$c in a 48-28 blowout victory over the trojans. This result does not affect the Pac-12 South race, as the winner of the UCLA-sc game is still the South Champ, regardless. But it does affect attitudes, and momentum.
It COULD make the trojans mad, and more focused, and less complacent, coming in to a home game that they are expected to win. OR… it could be demoralizing, to get spanked that badly on National TV, and get knocked out of the rankings. For the Bruins, it could be a positive, knowing that the sc Defense is vulnerable to the air attack, at which Josh Rosen and company are so adept. Also, if Momentum is a factor, the Bruins are coming off an inspiring victory, while the trojans are reeling from a humiliating loss. Also, sc superstar WR Juju Smith-Schuster came up a little gimpy after twisting an ankle. He continued to play in the game, but was limping somewhat noticeably. If Smith-Schuster is hampered, sc’s offense becomes MUCH less formidable.
That being said, I would be shocked if sc didn’t gain a lot of yards next week, and score a lot of points, I believe that UCLA will have to out-gun them, with Duarte and Payton having big days, and Rosen being smart with the ball. SC looks like it can’t handle a mobile QB who can scamper to avoid the rush and buy more time. If Rosen can do this, he will find open Receivers and make sc pay.
Overall, I am not the least bit cocky about what will transpire on Saturday. The trojans have lost three in a row to the Bruins, so they might be HUNGRIER for a win, and they will be at home, and the noise of 50,000 rabid fans will make things tougher on Rosen. The only place where I feel UCLA has an edge is on the Sidelines. Coach Mora has had the Bruins very READY for this game the last three years. It will be up to Mora to do that again, because the Bruins will need their BEST EFFORT to come out on top against the uber-talented trojan squad. It should be an amazing game.