Three Takeaways From Utah’s Tight Win Over UCLA

Sep 23, 2023, 6:13 PM | Updated: Sep 25, 2023, 2:24 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – It was far from a pretty game, but Utah opened Pac-12 play 1-0 against UCLA and 4-0 overall on the 2023 season after holding strong in a slugfest.

Both Utah and UCLA were working with freshmen quarterbacks, but the Utes’ defense was the ultimate difference maker scoring seven points and holding the Bruins to only seven points for a 14-7 victory.

There is a lot to nitpick about the Utes’ overall team performance, but at the end of the day, a win is a win- especially when you’re the walking wounded early in the season. Here are three takeaways from the dub.

Takeaway Number One: Good Luck Against This Utah Defense…

The Utes have competed against three Power Five opponents and one FCS team- holding them to a total of 38 points in four games played. That’s 9.5 points per game…wow!

For their game against UCLA, Utah wasted zero time, ok, like 12 seconds getting on the board as linebacker Karene Reid took the very first play to the house for a pick six.

Defensive end Jonah Elliss accounted for 3.5 of Utah’s six total sacks. He also led the team with 10 tackles, and five tackles for loss.

Logan Fano, Lander Barton, and Keanu Tanuvasa all forced a fumble.

UCLA only had nine…yes NINE rushing yards for the entire game and quarterback Dante Moore was just 15-35 passing.

It was a downright dominant performance.

“Nine yards rushing on 32 carries- obviously that’s going to happen when you have seven sacks,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Great pressure. What wins close football games is a fourth quarter pass rush and the ability to run the football in the fourth quarter. We had the pass rush; we didn’t run the ball nearly well enough in the fourth quarter.”

Takeaway Number Two: Utah Needs To Get Healthy Soon

Look, what the Utes have done with not their full line up the past four games has been impressive and fans should be excited about the fact that the Utes are equipped to handle absences against good teams.

However, this model is not sustainable. Not with the way the Pac-12 is looking this year. Utah needs most if not all of their starters and they need them to be at or close to 100% soon.

The good news is it’s sounding like Utah may be getting more key guys back soon. Whittingham acknowledged that defensive ends Connor O’Toole and Van Fillinger will be back this week along with several other un-named players.

“Johnny Maea is close,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got about eight or 10 guys that are very close. That would be great to get these guys back. Johnny is one of those guys.”

This is hopefully great news for the Utes whose schedule does not get any easier from here.

Takeaway Number Three: Utah Needs Cam Rising

Nate Johnson has the ability to be very good for the Utes. His numbers haven’t been staggering so far (9-17, 117 yards, one touchdown) which is to be expected breaking a guy in that doesn’t have a lot of starts, but he’s shown flashes he can be something special.

However, Utah’s offense is completely different when starting quarterback Cam Rising is able to go which has not happened yet so far.

The Utes need to be able to sustain drives consistently against the likes of USC, Oregon, Washington and likely Oregon State next week if they want to keep their three-peat hopes alive.

By all accounts Rising is close. How close though and how soon he’ll be back? Well, we’re going to have to wait another week to see.

Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on XInstagram, and Threads: @BodkinKSLsports

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Three Takeaways From Utah’s Tight Win Over UCLA