Head to Head: Daily Bruin


University of Utah junior running back Zack Moss (2) stiff arms UCLA sophomore defensive back Quentin Lake (37) during an NCAA Football game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (Photo by: Justin Prather | The Utah Chronicle).

By Sammy Mora, Sports Editor


It’s a Sam-off this week as I talked to Sam Connon of the Daily Bruin to talk some Utes and Bruins ahead of the matchup on Saturday. 


Sammy Mora: UCLA is on a 4-game win streak. What has been the biggest thing that has changed in the last four games? 

Sam Connon: It’s really the defense. They forced a couple of turnovers against Washington State early in the year, but other than that, they were getting thrown all over by Arizona, San Diego State and Cincinnati — all teams that they have the talent to stop. After the bye, and after they started 1-5, they came out and they played Stanford’s third-string quarterback and got an easy defensive performance there. That translated into a really strong performance on the defensive. side against Arizona State and Colorado, which were maybe a little less expected. The defense really hasn’t been a strong suit for this team in several years, but now it’s really turned around.


SM: Utah has shown they can get it done through the air as well as on the ground. What is UCLA going to need to do defensively to have a shot to take down a top 10 team? 

SC: It all comes down to the pass rush. If you look at it simply — sack the quarterback, give them second and long or third and long. then it’s harder to run. They have got to throw and be more desperate. I don’t know if UCLA can do that. They don’t have the best pass rush unit, but they’ve been getting better. They had a great game against Stanford, and they have been putting decent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but Utah is the best team they’ve played all season, besides maybe Oklahoma. It’s definitely a big test, but it comes down to the pass rush for UCLA. If they can step up, then I think that that can make things interesting.


SM: Who on the UCLA offense needs to have a big game on Saturday? 

SC: The obvious ones are Joshua Kelley or Dorian Thompson-Robinson, but I think the X factor is Kyle Philips. Ever since the middle of the season, he’s been the most reliable receiver and he’s racked up the most receptions. He had a 10-catch game in there. He wasn’t really expecting to be the go-to receiver headed into the year, but Thompson-Robinson has really looked his way a lot. That’s been where the offense has succeeded, when Phillips is consistently getting the ball into open space, whether that is off screens and or if it’s out of the slot and going over the middle. When Phillips is being used in a lot of different roles and getting the ball in his hands, that’s when the UCLA passing game works better, and when they’re working it through the air and then the ground game comes along with that.


SM: Who on Utah team do you believe will cause the most trouble this weekend? 

SC: I’m going to have to go with Tyler Huntley. The UCLA run defense from beginning to end — outside of the Oklahoma game — has been pretty solid — that was never really too much of a question. The linebackers are veteran linebackers, they’re really good and those tackles are really good, but the secondary has had really good games and then some really awful games. I think that the most threatening thing is if Huntley can just pick apart the corners on the outside. If he can get enough time to wait in the pocket, find holes and evade the pass rush because he’s athletic enough to do that, then I think that he’s really the guy that can tear apart the Bruin defense.


SM: Which position battle are you most looking forward to watching? 

SC: I would say almost looking forward to seeing the UCLA passing game with Thompson-Robinson and the receivers against the Utah secondary, because Thompson-Robinson has only thrown eight picks this season. That’s not a ton, but he has turned the ball over in every single game this season. Assuming that UCLA is going to need to score points to keep up with Utah offense, they’re going to need to be passing a lot. If he can get enough time and wait for his receivers to get an open space against the Utah corners then that’s great, and if the safeties are playing down, playing Kelly opens up the middle of the field for the passing game that works for UCLA too. The Utah secondary can really turn this game around just by forcing Thompson-Robinson into bad decisions and turnovers, because he’s been prone to making some of those over the last year and a half. That’s probably the go-to matchup for me. 


SM: Do you have a score prediction?

SC: I haven’t thought about it too much yet. I think it’s gonna be a good game just because of the implications. I feel like it could kind of be a letdown if it was just a blowout, so the football guy in me just wants to see a good game. I think it’ll be somewhat close — maybe somewhere between a blowout and a really close game — so I’ll go Utah 34 UCLA 24 — a 10 point game.  


The Utes and Bruins are set to kick off on Saturday at 6 p.m. 


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