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3 takeaways from Utah’s 44-24 win over UCLA

SHARE 3 takeaways from Utah’s 44-24 win over UCLA
Utah quarterback Cam Rising runs down the sideline during game against UCLA at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) runs down the sideline trying to avoid the tackle from UCLA Bruins defensive back Obi Eboh (22) at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021.

Adam Fondren, Journal staff, Adam Fondren for the Deseret News

Utah took full control of the Pac-12 South on Saturday, beating UCLA 44-24 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Tavion Thomas rushed for four scores to lead Utah, becoming the first Ute to have four rushing touchdowns in a game since Joe Williams in 2016. The Utes are now 4-1 in Pac-12 play, and with Arizona State’s loss to Washington State on Saturday, Utah is two games up on the Sun Devils — the Utes hold the tiebreaker over ASU — with four games to play.

Here are three takeaways from Utah’s win:

Tavion Thomas leads the way in the Utes’ best rushing game of the season

Tavion Thomas had one of the best scoring performances in program history, posting four touchdowns and tying the school’s single-game record for rushing touchdowns.

Thomas had 160 yards on 24 carries and was instrumental in Utah’s success in the red zone. He scored touchdowns from eight, 10 and 24 yards out.

After a rocky start to his Utah career in which he fumbled in the first two games of the season, Thomas fell down the depth chart. He got a second chance against USC and made the most of it, however, and since then, he has been the No. 1 back for the Utes.

Thomas ran tough all game Saturday, as he has all season since the USC game, and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. Thomas was able to convert five third downs for the Utes, who were 8-for-12 overall.

Thomas helped the Utes’ rushing attack to 290 yards, by far their best performance of the season. It came against UCLA’s best-in-the-conference run defense, which previously was giving up just 95 rushing yards per game.

Utah’s offensive line dominates

Down a starter in Keaton Bills, the Utes’ offensive line managed to turn their best game of the season. The unit got plenty of push, opening up holes for Thomas, especially in the red zone.

Utah’s starting lineup of Bam Olaseni, Nick Ford, Paul Maile, Sataoa Laumea and Braeden Daniels performed well. There were a few suboptimal snaps from Maile, who started at center, but overall, he played well. Ford, who has started at center in all of Utah’s game this year, moved over to left guard and turned in a good performance.

The offensive line’s shining moment came on Thomas’ 10-yard rush at the end of the second quarter, as the line just outmuscled UCLA to clear the way for the score.

The offensive line helped the Utes to 290 yards rushing and did not allow a sack, protecting Rising well.

Utah finds success in the red zone

After last week’s red zone struggles against Oregon State, where the Utes scored touchdowns on just four of their eight possessions, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has to be happy with his team’s performance inside the 20 against UCLA.

Utah was 5-for-5 on red zone trips on Saturday, with all five resulting in touchdowns.

Five of Utah’s six touchdowns came in the red zone, with the lone score — Thomas’ game-sealing touchdown run with 4:40 left in the game, coming from the 24-yard-line.

Thomas was certainly instrumental in Utah’s red zone success, scoring three of the five touchdowns, but quarterback Cam Rising also did a good job. Rising rushed for a score and threw to Dalton Kincaid for another, the latter coming on a well-designed play by Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.