LOS ANGELES -- Coming off of a game in which their offensive line struggled, the UCLA Bruins can't be too excited to be facing one of the nation's top defensive linemen.
But the schedule says Utah will play UCLA at the Rose Bowl Saturday at noon Pacific, so the Bruins will have to figure out a way to deal with the Utes and nose tackle Star Lotulelei.
Despite getting double- and triple-teamed just about every play, Lotulelei, a 6-4, 320-pound senior, has a team-high five tackles for a loss and has forced two fumbles. He is the leader of a strong Utah defensive front that uses as many as 12 players and will switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 throughout the game.
"The guys that stand out to you are really their defense," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "They play physical, they play hard. Lotulelei, their nose tackle, is one of the best defensive linemen I’ve seen in a long, long time. He’s just a force."
Lotulelei, the 2011 Morris Trophy winner as the top defensive lineman in the Pac-12, helps make Utah's defense formidable. The Utes (2-4, 0-2 Pac-12) are third in the Pac-12 in total defense, giving up 350 yards per game. They have given up only 114.8 yard rushing per game, a stat that has them ranked No. 35 in the nation in that category. It's going to be a challenge for a UCLA offensive line that had a poor showing against California, which got five sacks, eight tackles for a loss and held UCLA to 128 yards rushing -- almost 100 yards below the Bruins' season average.
"This will be a good challenge for us, especially up front with our young offensive line going up against these guys," Mora said. "It’ll be a real challenge so we’ve got to have a good week of practice and stay focused and come out and play as well as we can."
Defending the Utah offense doesn't appear to be nearly as much of an issue. The Utes lost starting quarterback Jordan Wynn in the second game of the season and have not been able to find a consistent groove under replacement Jon Hays. Utah is No. 114 in the nation in total offense with 299.4 yards per game and is averaging only 17.5 points per game in two conference games.
Take away the first three minutes of the USC game last week, when the Trojans gift-wrapped Utah touchdowns with a pair of fumbles inside the USC 15-yard line, and Utah has scored only 21 points in two Pac-12 games. The Utes are No. 108 in the nation in rushing offense and No. 100 in passing offense.
Running back John White, thought to be among the top returning running backs in the conference after a 1,519-yard season last year, has 301 yards this season and had his only 100-yard game in the season opener against Northern Colorado, an FCS school.
Since the career-ending injury to Wynn, the Utes have shown a reluctance to pass and Hays has yet to top 200 yards passing in a game. He passed for 160 yards last week against USC and 117 the week before against Arizona State. Still, Mora said the Utah passing attack features a deep group of receivers led by Dres Anderson (13 catches, 163 yards) and Kenneth Scott, who is averaging 19.6 yards per catch.
"Offensively, it’s probably the deepest group of receivers that we’ve seen," Mora said. "They’ve got a bunch of guys that can make plays and they’re all efficient at what they do."
The Utah defense, however, poses the biggest challenge for UCLA.
"They get after it," Mora said. "And when you watch the film, that front is impressive. I heard about Lotulelei but I had never seen him play. I saw him play on TV and then when I turned on the film the other day, you want to turn it off after about 10 plays. He was a force so we’ve got to figure out how to deal with him."