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No. 11 Utah Football Defeats UCLA in First Conference Game

Utah’s defense was the story of the game, forcing three fumbles and returning one interception for a touchdown.
The+Utah+Utes+celebrate+after+a+sack+versus+the+UCLA+Bruins+at+Rice-Eccles+Stadium+in+Salt+Lake+City+on+Saturday%2C+Sept.23%2C+2023.+%28Photo+by+Xiangyao+%E2%80%9CAxe%E2%80%9D+Tang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29
Xiangyao Tang
The Utah Utes celebrate after a sack versus the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept.23, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

 

After a 31-7 win over Weber State, the No. 11 University of Utah football team (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) remained home to start conference play against the No. 22 UCLA Bruins in the homecoming game. Utah’s 3-0 start has been the first time since 2019 that the Utes have been undefeated in regular-season non-conference games.

With Cam Rising out, Nate Johnson got his second career start, with his first coming last week against Weber State. Johnson put up 193 yards through the air against the Wildcats, coupled with a team-high 71 rushing yards.

Recap

After winning the coin toss and deferring, Utah started the game on defense. Karene Reid impacted the game instantly, grabbing a pick-six on the very first play.

Just 12 seconds into the game, Utah held a 7-0 lead, and the defense stepped back onto the field with a new energy. The Utes backed the Bruins up, setting up a third and 12, and an incomplete pass ended UCLA’s second drive of the day, forcing a punt.

Starting from their own 31-yard line, the Utah offense took the field for the first time. Johnson showed his speed early on, gaining 16 yards on two rushes. Utah was unable to find the endzone and missed a 47-yard attempt.

UCLA had a quick 3-and-out, fumbling on third down but retaining possession before a short punt that would set Utah on UCLA’s 36-yard line. But Utah wouldn’t get anything out of it, as Johnson fumbled on the first play of the drive and gave UCLA possession.

The Bruins would drive down the field, but Utah would get a big stop on fourth-and-7 to regain possession. But the Utes would be stopped, turning the ball over on fourth-and-4.

Once again, defense was the storyline, as Utah got another stop and forced the Bruins to punt. The teams would go back and forth, with neither team able to put points on the board until Johnson found Landen King for his first touchdown as a Ute to give Utah a 14-0 lead with one minute left in the half.

UCLA had yet another 3-and-out, their fifth of the half. Utah’s defense got the stop and was able to give the offense the ball with 30 seconds left before the end of the half. Jaylon Glover got a 16-yard run to start the drive, but Utah would be unable to add to the lead before the end of the half.

Utah received the ball to start the second half, with Johnson still under center. Johnson delivered a beautiful ball to Devaughn Vele for 35 yards. But UCLA would find another stop, forcing Utah to punt.

Reid almost came up with another interception on UCLA’s next drive, but barely dropped it. The Utes got a stop on third-and-5, and UCLA would punt once again.

Utah wouldn’t get anywhere on the next drive, another defensive stop by UCLA. The Bruins worked their way down the field, failing to convert on a third-and-11. But a targeting call on Utah’s Aliki Vimahi kept UCLA’s drive alive.

UCLA quarterback Dante Moore fumbled the ball in the red zone, keeping the Bruins scoreless. Lander Barton forced the fumble, and Tao Johnson recovered it.

The Utah Utes celebrate after a fumble recovery versus the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept.23, 2023. (Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle) (Xiangyao Tang)

A near safety almost gave UCLA their first points of the game. Glover was able to rush for 13 yards and get Utah in a more comfortable position as the third quarter came to an end.

The Utes would punt on fourth-and-1 to start the fourth quarter. UCLA was able to move down the field but failed to convert on fourth-and-4 within Utah territory.

But Utah went 3-and-out, their second of the game. Utah’s offense struggled to get going, but the defense held strong, forcing the Bruins to punt out of their own endzone. Utah didn’t make anything of the drive, and UCLA would get the ball back.

A late UCLA touchdown would get the Bruins on the scoreboard for the first time. Utah wasn’t able to get anything going on the next drive, and UCLA regained possession with just over three minutes remaining. Utah’s defense came in big, getting three sacks on the next drive and giving the offense the ball on UCLA’s 7-yard line.

Johnson would kneel the ball to end the game, as the Utes won 14-7 and advanced to 4-0 to start the season.

Analysis

Utah’s offense struggled against UCLA’s defense, only finding the endzone once. The question must be asked, when will Rising play again? Utah’s defense played phenomenal, but the offense was only able to find the endzone once.

“We scored seven points,” Johnson said. “We have some things to clean up on offense.”

Utah’s defense only allowed 49 yards and two first downs in the first half. UCLA was able to find more yards in the second half, but Utah was able to force takeaways and control the game.

Utah finished with 219 total yards, just under UCLA’s 243. Utah struggled on third down conversions, only getting 6 of 17, better than UCLA’s 3 of 17. Utah’s defense was the story of the game, forcing three fumbles and returning one interception for a touchdown.

“Bottom line is, you get the W and you move on,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said.

The Utes will now travel to Corvallis to face the No. 14 Oregon State Beavers. The game will take place on Sept. 29 at 7:00 p.m. MDT and will be broadcast on FS1.

 

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@seanoverton3

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About the Contributors
Sean Overton
Sean Overton, Sports Editor
Sean Overton is the Editor of the Sports Desk. He is currently a senior and is majoring in Business Administration with plans to attend law school.
Madeline Van Wagenen
Madeline Van Wagenen, Photo Director
(she/her) Madeline Van Wagenen is an opinion writer and photographer at the Daily Utah Chronicle. She is a junior studying communications and Spanish. Madeline absolutely loves writing, photography and Billy Joel's entire discography. When she’s not working on projects for the Chrony, she can be found playing card games with friends or curating oddly specific Spotify playlists.
Xiangyao Tang
Xiangyao Tang, Photo Director
Axe is a photographer and the photo director of the Daily Utah Chronicle. He is from China and is a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in digital photography. Axe joined the Chronicle in August of 2021. In addition to his position at the Chrony, he is also a photo intern for University of Utah Athletics. When he's not writing code, you will find him rock climbing, camping, skiing or hiking with his camera.

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