Three Things To Watch: #11 Utah Vs. #18 UCLA

Oct 7, 2022, 9:58 AM
Tavion Thomas - Utah Utes vs. UCLA...
Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) evades a tackle from UCLA Bruins defensive back Martell Irby (12) on his way to scoring a touchdown during the game between Utah and UCLA at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. (Deseret News)
(Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY- This weekend’s matchup for #11 Utah will most likely be their biggest test to date since starting the season against Florida and will also go a long way in determining exactly where #18 UCLA sits as well. Both teams have great talent to work with in all phases of the game, but only one can come out on top. The Utes have had the Bruins’ number the past few years, but UCLA appears to have improved in 2022.

Here are the three things to watch in this Top 25 matchup that will go a long way in determining who comes out the victor.

Utah’s Offensive Line

The past few weeks Utah’s offensive line has been brilliant in pass protection but has struggled a bit in establishing the run game which is opposite of years past. Overall, the Oblock has had its best start in several years and the effort could be topped off if they can help get Utah’s run game going.

Despite not being up to their usual rushing standards, the Utes do currently rank third in the Pac-12 in rushing offense and 24th nationally which is still pretty good. However, most that have been around the program for a long time know this team has not completely hit their stride in the run game yet.

UCLA’s rush defense ranks first in the Pac-12 and sixth nationally, so this will be a big challenge for the group, but an important one.

Do We See Tavion Thomas?

Point number one flows nicely into point number two, which is will we see more of Utah’s best running back, Tavion Thomas? So far in 2022 Thomas has been a little underwhelming and there are several factors that play into it including point number one.

So far on the season, the Utes have accumulated 1086 total rushing yards, but it has largely been by committee and not due to Thomas alone. It’s worked out ok so far for the Utes, but it feels like the offense as a whole would be even better if they had “a guy” step up and take on that responsibility.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham has been very open that Thomas has not been as accountable and consistent as they would like to start the year and has had to earn his playing time back. From the sounds of it, Thomas has doing just that and might have a bigger role this week. Will that equate to Thomas having a big game against UCLA a la Joe Williams, or Zack Moss? Could someone else step up to have that kind of impact in the run attack instead? We will certainly find out on Saturday.

The Utes’ Rush Defense

Everybody by now has heard the story of how Utah’s front seven got burned by Anthony Richardson and Florida for 283 rushing yards in their season opener. Everybody has also probably heard about how the Utes have been working hard to get that corrected and it largely appears to be true, though Saturday’s contest with UCLA will be the best measuring stick to date.

The Bruins currently rank second in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, and 21st in the nation. UCLA’s rushing attack is largely carried by running back Zach Charbonnet with some strategic help from quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Utah’s rushing defense currently sits sixth in the Pac-12 and 47th in the country.

Utah proved last week against Oregon State that they don’t necessarily have to be perfect and not allow any yards what-so-ever. They executed a “bend-but-don’t-break” method against the Beavers where they were able to move up and down the field with ease, but once they hit the red zone were held hostage by Utah’s defense.

This brings up the point that while Utah’s rush defense has been just ok so far this season, their red zone defense has been excellent ranking third in the Pac-12 and 25th nationally. It will be important this game for Utah’s defense to be serviceable stopping Charbonnet and DTR. It most likely won’t be a perfect effort, but if they can continue to bend and not break this game gets very interesting.



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