Thursday, November 10, 2011
Utah, UCLA both running from the ashes
Utah and UCLA were written off after their seventh games. The Utes got stomped at Cal, and the Bruins were humiliated at Arizona on ESPN. Utah fell to 0-4 in the Pac-12. UCLA seemed on the cusp of a coaching search.
After a rough start, UCLA and coach Rick Neuheisel control their destiny.
And now they play Saturday in Salt Lake, each riding a two-game conference winning streak, with the winner earning bowl eligibility. And UCLA in the South Division lead.
Stuff changes. The unexpected can happen.
So maybe we'll see plenty of passing on Saturday. Just don't count on it.
UCLA and Utah like to run the ball and aren't terribly good at passing it. UCLA ranks 11th and Utah 12th in the conference in passing yards per game. They've combined for 23 TD passes, which is fewer than USC, Stanford, Washington and Oregon.
This won't be a four-hour game.
UCLA is better on offense overall and is better at running it, see its 191 yards per game out of a pistol offense. It averages 4.8 yards per carry, while the Utes average 3.6. It has three legitimate rushing weapons in running backs Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman and quarterback Kevin Prince, while the Utes rely almost entirely on John White.
"[White] has been a big part of our success," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "When he goes over 100 yards, we win, and when he doesn't, we've lost."
Utah is much better on defense, though. It ranks second in the conference against the run and third in total defense. UCLA is 11th against the run and 10th in total defense.
The Utes' front-seven is particularly tough.
"A huge challenge," Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Our offense is predicated on winning at least your share at the line of scrimmage and being able to run the football. And they are as stout as anybody we've played this year."
Beyond the Xs and Os, there's the Norm Chow factor. The legendary offensive coordinator was hired by Whittingham after he parted ways with Neuheisel after three mostly poor seasons. All parties have played down any perception of bad blood this week, as well as any major competitive advantage.
"I think the advantage or disadvantage is a wash," Whittingham said. "I don't think that will play into it at all. I think they've changed both coordinators, so I don't see that as an advantage one way or another."
Still, Chow will be able to provide the Utes coaches plenty of insider details about the Bruins' players, their tendencies, likes and dislikes and strengths and weaknesses.
"He's going to know our personnel as well as anybody, so we have to understand that," Neuheisel admitted.
Still, Neuheisel observed, the game will come down to "blocking and tackling" as most games do. And turnovers.
As for what the game means in the big picture, Neuheisel didn't take the bait. He brought up Pac-12 and postseason possibilities in advance of the Arizona game, and that didn't go well.
"Our future is Saturday," he said. "Nothing else matters. We made that mistake before talking about this, that or the other thing."