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3 takeaways from No. 11 Utah’s win over No. 22 UCLA

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Utah Utes linebacker Karene Reid (21) celebrates his pick-six against the UCLA Bruins in Salt Lake City on Sept. 23, 2023.

Utah Utes linebacker Karene Reid (21) celebrate his pick six against the UCLA Bruins in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The contest became more suspenseful inside of four minutes to play than perhaps many expected it would, but the 11th-ranked Utah Utes hung on to beat the 22nd-ranked UCLA Bruins 14-7 on Saturday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Utah’s defense did so, so much to win that game

Outside of UCLA’s lone touchdown drive that ended with 3:39 to play and some fortunate drops by Bruin receivers, Utah played marvelous, marvelous defense on Saturday to pave the way to the win.

Yes, there were the highlights of Karene Reid’s pick six on the first play of the game from scrimmage and a key fumble recovery from Tao Johnson when UCLA was in the red zone in the third quarter, but more than that, the Utes were consistently lights out.

Some stats: The Bruins were just 3 of 16 on third down, quarterback Dante Moore was just 15 of 35 passing, UCLA finished with just 9 rushing yards on 32 attempts, the Utes won the turnover battle 2-1 and they sacked Moore seven times.

It was punctuated when the Bruins got the ball with 3:14 to play needing to drive 82 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

The Utes came up with three sacks in four plays as UCLA gained just 11 yards.

All of that became just enough as the Utah offense wasn’t all that productive for most of the afternoon.

The offense did just enough

Credit should go to what is a very good UCLA defense for giving up just one touchdown, which came late in the second quarter, but the Ute offense wasn’t exactly sharp either.

In his second career start and first against FBS competition, Utah quarterback Nate Johnson finished 9 of 17 for 117 yards with a touchdown (to tight end Landen King) and no interceptions.

For much of the first half, the Utes relied almost exclusively on its running game, but started to open up the passing game when its top running back, Ja’Quinden Jackson, went out in the second quarter with an injury and did not return.

From that point on, Johnson was decent enough but not wonderful, highlighting the need for Utah to get Cam Rising back from injury as soon as possible if it wants to be successful the rest of the season.

Without Jackson, Jaylon Glover finished with 86 yards rushing on 25 carries, while Jackson added 26 yards on six carries before his exit.

Punting, and a word about the future schedule

Notice should be given to Utah punter Jack Bouwmeester, who punted eight times and finished with an average of exactly 44 yards per punt. Six of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

That was certainly the highlight on special teams, as backup kicker Joey Cheek (starting kicker Cole Becker missed his second straight game because of injury) missed his only field goal attempt.

All of this points toward the future, as the Utes’ schedule is rather brutal over the next four weeks.

First up is a meeting in just six days against No. 14 Oregon State, then a contest against Cal. After that is a brutal stretch at No. 5 USC and at home against No. 10 Oregon.