Utah and UCLA have at least a couple of things in common these days.
Last weekend, they both played the two Pac-12 Oregon schools an had similar results. The Utes took an early 14-0 lead on Oregon State, while the Bruins took an early 14-0 lead on No. 7 Oregon.
Utes on the air
UCLA (5-3, 3-2)
at Utah (4-3, 3-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700
In the end, both Utah and UCLA lost. The Utes fell 42-34 on the road to the Beavers, while the Bruins came up short at home against the Ducks, 34-31.
Now, coming off a disappointing weekend, the pair of Pac-12 rivals meet Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN) in a critical showdown in the South Division race at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah is 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12, while UCLA is 5-3 and 3-2. The loser could see their Pac-12 South title hopes seriously damaged with a loss Saturday in Salt Lake City.
The Utes are tied with Arizona State for first place in the South and they own the tiebreaker over the Sun Devils due to their win over ASU on Oct. 16.
The Bruins have a smaller margin for error — and coach Chip Kelly is still sitting squarely on the hot seat in Los Angeles. UCLA has posted a 15-24 record in four seasons under Kelly.
By losing to Oregon, the Bruins squandered an opportunity to upset a top-10 team and make a statement. ESPN’s “College GameDay” was on hand for the game and at times, UCLA played well. But the Bruins couldn’t get it done.
“It was a huge opportunity. We just came up a little short, so we still have to take the same approach,” Kelly said. “We’ll analyze the film, we’ll sit down with our guys ... what corrections can we make? Which ones were good plays by them and you just kind of tip your cap and say, ‘Hey, that’s a heck of a play by that kid,’ and which ones can we fix, and can we clean up?”
As part of the intrigue of this Utah-UCLA game is the status of Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, who sustained what appeared to be an arm injury late in the Oregon game, as UCLA was attempting a comeback.
Ute coach Kyle Whittingham is convinced that Thompson-Robinson will be taking the snaps Saturday.
“He’ll play. He’s a tough kid,” he said. “He’ll be there. I’d be shocked if he’s not there.”
Whittingham compares Thompson-Robinson to Arizona State quarterback Jayden Daniels. Utah neutralized Daniels in the second half of its win over ASU.
“He’s a lot like the Arizona State quarterback. It’s very similar to what he brings to the table,” Whittingham said of Thompson-Robinson. “He’s lightning quick. He’s like another running back on the field essentially. … The quarterback is a dynamic player. He’s talented. They have two good running backs. When the quarterback runs the ball, they have three really good runners. (Kyle) Phillips, the receiver, is a great player.”
This season, Thompson-Robinson has completed 59.4% of his passes for 1,639 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions.
UCLA has some dangerous pass-catchers with Phillips (32 catches, 442 yards, six touchdowns) and tight end Greg Dulcich (25 receptions, 425 yards, three TDs).
As an offense, the Bruins are No. 2 in the Pac-12, behind Oregon State, in rushing this season. UCLA averages 206 rushing yards per game, led by running backs Zach Charbonnet (732 yards, seven touchdowns) and Brittain Brown (513 yards, six TDs) and Thompson-Robinson (364 yards, seven TDs).
Utah surrendered nearly 500 yards of offense to OSU last weekend. UCLA poses another big test for the Utes’ defense.
“They’re scoring 33 points a game. They’re a good team,” Whittingham said of the Bruins. “Chip is always hard to defend. He’s going to have things you haven’t seen. Every single week, he’s got things you haven’t practiced and you have to be able to adjust to during the course of a game. We’ve got a challenge ahead of us.”
UCLA has had an up-and-down season, including a big win at the Rose Bowl over LSU, followed by a loss to Fresno State. Then came a victory at Stanford, only to go down the next week to Arizona State.
The Bruins can remain in the Pac-12 race with a win at Utah Saturday.
“The one thing with this team, you can’t fault them for their effort, you can’t fault them for their attitude, you can’t fault them for their resiliency, and I think it’s a special group from that standpoint. And they’re never out of it,” Kelly said. “They’re going to compete and they keep playing, despite it and that’s part of what they have to learn.
“You have to learn to handle mistakes, what’s our recovery protocol? Football is not a game of perfect, but it’s a game of resiliency and if they continue to be resilient like they are, then most of the time you end up on the right side of things.”