Salt Lake City, UT (SportsNetwork.com) - The UCLA Bruins will defend their highest ranking in the Top 25 since 2007 when they visit the upset-minded Utah Utes in a Pac-12 affair at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Bruins got a week off after racing out to a 3-0 start with wins over Nevada (58-20), Nebraska (41-21) and New Mexico State (59-13). Despite being idle last week the Bruins were lifted to No. 12 in the most recent national rankings. The last time the Bruins were this high was during the 2007 season when they reached No. 11 after a 2-0 start, only to fall out of the Top 25 entirely after week three. Interestingly enough, it was Utah that knocked off the Bruins in that contest.
"I feel like they understand the ramifications of (the first conference game)," UCLA head coach Jim Mora said of his team as it gets ready for the league opener. "I think having a bye last week has helped us this week. That being said we have to go up there and perform."
Utah isn't boasting a national ranking entering this game but it has had a solid start to the season with a 3-1 mark. The Utes were also idle this past weekend as they were able to savor a 20-13 win over instate rival BYU in the annual Holy War game. Utah's lone loss did come in its first Pac-12 game of the year against Oregon State, as the Utes fell, 51-48, in overtime.
UCLA has had control of this all-time series by a sizable margin with nine wins in 11 all-time meetings. That includes a 21-14 victory at the Rose Bowl last season.
Brett Hundley has largely lived up to the big expectations placed on him after his breakout freshman campaign. The sophomore is completing 66.3 percent of his pass attempts this season and has 848 yards and eight touchdowns, with just three interceptions. What makes Hundley dangerous beyond his ability to get the ball to receivers is how well he can make plays with his legs. Hundley has rushed for 157 yards and has scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground.
Speaking of the ground game, UCLA has seemingly found its replacement for Johnathan Franklin in Jordon James, who has amassed 424 yards in just three games and has scored four of the team's 12 rushing touchdowns. James is third in the league in rushing yards at 141.3 per game.
James has not been a big part of the passing offense which has found its most dangerous threats in Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller. Evans has brought in 13 passes for 210 yards and already has three touchdown receptions. Fuller is more of a possession receiver and has 12 catches for 135 yards.
As a team, UCLA is one of the most dynamic offensive squads in a conference packed with offensive juggernauts. In fact the Bruins are currently the top rated offensive team in the conference, averaging 614.3 yards per game. Nationally speaking, only Baylor is putting up more yards per game than the Bruins.
Of course wins don't just come because of offense and UCLA is also putting forth strong defensive efforts this season. The Bruins are letting up 18 points and 339 yards per game. However, the Bruins have forced only three turnovers and have recorded just six sacks.
Keenan Graham has three of those quarterback takedowns to lead the team. All-American LB Anthony Barr (18 tackles, 5.0 TFL, three forced fumbles) hasn't produced much in the pass rush but has been plenty effective in creating negative plays and forcing turnovers.
Although they might not be as offensively proficient as UCLA, the Utes have been doing just fine on that side of the ball this season. Utah is one of six teams in the conference to be averaging more than 500 yards of total offense per game, while scoring a robust 42 points on average. Utah is also posting more than 200 yards passing and rushing per game.
Travis Wilson has been keeping the offensive ship steady from the quarterback spot. Wilson has completed 64.3 percent of his pass attempts for 1,118 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. Wilson threw for 273 yards and two scores against BYU, while avoiding an interception for the third time in four games. Additionally, Wilson is third in the conference in quarterback efficiency rating (166.6). Wilson isn't just a passing threat though as he has totaled 251 yards and five scores on the ground.
"There's a really good comparison between those two guys, and it's going to be an intriguing matchup," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in comparing Wilson to Hundley. "The quarterbacks are going against each other head-to-head on Thursday night. What Travis brings to the table and makes him difficult to defend, Hundley does the same thing for the Bruins."
Bubba Poole handles the majority of the rushing duties, especially since Lucky Radley has played sparingly in the last two games. Poole has totaled 213 of his 304 total yards over the last two contests and has also gotten the bulk of his carries in those games with 43 during the span. Radley rushed for 111 yards and two scores in a win over Weber State but has just a single carry in the two games since.
As far as pass-catchers go, you could do much worse than the Utes' Dres Anderson, who has brought in only 18 passes, but already has 404 yards and three touchdowns. Anderson has had over 100 yards receiving in three straight games, while the Utes have had a 100-yard receiver in all four games. Anthony Denham (10 receptions, 142 yards, TD) had the other 100-yard effort and is one of four receivers with at least 10 catches and 100 yards for the Utes.
Unfortunately for Utah, it has not managed to slow teams down. Utah is allowing 24.2 points and 406.5 yards per game. Utah has been strong in terms of a pass rush with 15 sacks already, while holding foes to touchdowns on just 53 percent of their trips to the red zone.
There is no one dominant pass rusher with Tenny Palepoi leading the team with 2.5 sacks. Trevor Reilly leads the team in tackles (26) and tackles for loss (5.5).