We learned quite a few things with UCLA’s 49-3 loss to Utah in Salt Lake City Saturday night. First, for whatever improvements UCLA has made in the last four weeks, they are not close to being physically competitive with a team like Utah. Second, the oddsmakers who had Utah as a 21-point favorite were delusional to think the Bruins could hang with Utah. Third, UCLA’s fun fantasy of a Pac 12 South title was just that, whimsy. Fourth, Utah is every bit as good as any of the other top seven teams in the country.
UCLA was in the game for about a quarter and a half and then reality set in. The Bruins had their chances during that time. But failure to capitalize on opportunities gave Utah all the time they needed.
Utah dominated both lines of scrimmage against the Bruins. UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson spent much of the game making decisions while scrambling for his life. The Utes dominated the left side of UCLA’s offensive line, home to freshmen Sean Rhyan and Duke Clemens. Most every time Thompson-Robinson had to improvise it was because Utah’s front seven was busting right between Rhyan and Clemens and into the UCLA backfield.
On their first drive, UCLA was all the way down at the Utah three-yard line. But Thompson-Robinson was sacked on consecutive plays, from the left side of his line, for a total loss of 22 yards. A 15-play drive that consumed 6:55 off the clock, got them nothing more than a J.J. Molson field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Utah responded on the only other complete drive of the first quarter. Even on plays where yardage was lost, quarterback Tyler Huntley had answers, mostly because he had time. UCLA’s defensive line did not get consistent pressure. The linebackers were trying to cover running back Zack Moss out of the backfield with little support, and the defensive backs had to fend off the tight ends. It was a physical mismatch at every level. Moss ran for 36-yards on the drive and Huntley finished it by juking UCLA linebacker Krys Barnes out of his shoes.
At the UCLA three-yard line, Huntley rolled out to his right. He pump faked a pass, which caused Barnes to go airborne, and then Huntley ran past him for the touchdown. The 12 play, 75-yard drive burned 6:26 off the clock and gave Utah their game winning lead, 7-3.
Thompson-Robinson would spend much of the rest of the first half running obstacle course-like sprints in the backfield trying to keep plays alive. Sometimes it worked, like when he ran and chucked it down 34 yards to receiver Kyle Philips. Other efforts were futile, like when he heaved up a pass from the Utah 40-yard line into the end zone for Devin Asiasi, only to have it picked off by Utes defensive back Julian Blackmon.
Thompson-Robinson would finish the game 20 of 36 for 219 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. It would be the first game of the season for him with zero touchdown passes.
UCLA had a golden opportunity early in the second quarter. After recovering a Utah fumble, the Bruin had the ball at the Utes 28-yard line. Two Josh Kelley runs later they were in field goal range at the Utah 19-yard line. A false start by Jake Burton pushed them back to the 24, and then Molson missed the 42-yard field goal when it went over the right upright. It was indicative of the night, getting near or into the red zone and coming away with nothing.
Utah did not miss its chances. After the field goal miss, the Utes drove 76 yards on 10 plays, and got a four-yard Moss run to go up 14-3.
Any thought UCLA had of staying close ended on the next Bruins drive. Once again, they were in the red zone, at the Utah 12-yard line. On third and 10, Thompson-Robinson scrambled backwards trying to avoid the rush and keep the play alive. He was sacked and fumbled. The ball was picked up by Mike Tafua and returned it 68 yards for the touchdown. The Utes had effectively put UCLA away at 21-3.
Moss would add a 38-yard touchdown run just before the half to make it 28-3 at halftime.
Utah opened the half with another Huntley-engineered scoring drive, when he hooked up with Brant Kuithe for a 69-yard touchdown, as defensive back Stephen Blaylock tried to make a hit along the sidelines instead of fundamentally wrapping up the receiver. It gave Utah a 35-3 lead.
Huntley finished the game with 335 yards on just 14 of 18 passing, to go with the two touchdown passes. Moss added 127 yards rushing and 73 yards receiving, with two touchdowns.
Even when UCLA was given a gift, when Utah botched a fake punt deep inside their own territory, the Bruins gave it away. On third and goal from the Utah 10-yard line, Thompson-Robinson scrambled in the backfield and the ball came out of his hand as he went to throw. The Bruins had a season high five turnovers.
You cannot be sloppy when playing a team that is superior in every fact of the game. You cannot come away from multiple trips in the red zone empty handed. At times it may have felt like UCLA was producing on offense. But they finished with only 269 yards of total offense. Utah gashed the Bruins defense for 536 yards.
Barnes put the loss on his shoulders.
I take ownership… Gotta get right
— Krys Barnes (@KrysBarnes) November 17, 2019
Clearly, Barnes was not alone in his responsibility. This was not about youth versus veterans. It is week 10 of the season. Youth was what players were two months ago. This was a physically superior team imposing its will against a team that has improved against poor teams the last few weeks but is struggling to find a consistent identity.
Former Bruins all-conference offensive lineman Irv Eatman was direct in his feeling on the UCLA performance.
Y’all please let me know when they start playing football at my alma Mater again pic.twitter.com/dsNIviTEX9
— BIG IRV (@BIGIRVSATX1) November 17, 2019
The Bruins’ brief flirtation with the Pac 12 South race has ended. At 4-6 overall, (4-3 in conference), they now need to beat USC on the road and Cal at home to be eligible for a low tier bowl game. It would still be an upside, considering they were 1-5 at one point in October. If Chip Kelly’s mantra of one day at a time really is ingrained in the players, the test will be Sunday. It will be critical to put this abomination in the rear-view mirror as quickly as possible. USC trashed Cal Saturday night and the Bruins will have their hands full with a team trending in the right direction, while they try to find a trend for themselves.