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UCLA Football Preview: Look for Utah's Balanced Attack To Become Pass Heavy Tonight
Utes' QB Cameron Rising will probably throw more tonight that usual and he will have a familiar target on the receiving end.
Tomorrow, UCLA football visits the Utah Utes for a 7 pm PT game. The single biggest issue for the Bruins this season has been the play of the UCLA’s defense. While Utah offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig prefers to run a balanced attack, it’s clear to anyone who has watched the Bruins that the way to beat UCLA is through the air.
That said, let’s take a look at what the Utah offense will look like tomorrow.
Coming out of high school, Cameron Rising was ranked as the 8th best pro-style quarterback in the nation. He initially opted to head to the University of Texas from Newbury Park HS in Ventura County, but after redshirting in Austin, he transfered to Utah, where he had to sit out a year.
Then, in 2020, he played in Utah’s first game of the season against Southern Cal, but was injured during the game and he was done for the season.
So far this season, he’s been lighting up the scoreboard for the Utes. His play against Arizona State earned him Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for leading the Utes to a 14-point comeback to beat the Sun Devils.
Despite the hype, Rising’s numbers aren’t much better than Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s. In fact, DTR has thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than Rising has, but Rising’s numbers are significantly better than Anthony Brown’s and he torched the Bruins the last week.
That means the Andy Ludwig will likely force the Bruins to stop Rising in order to win and it’s just not clear that UCLA can do that.
Utah’s leading rusher is sophomore running back Tavion Thomas. So far, Thomas has carried the ball for 405 yards and six touchdowns. Interestingly, Thomas isn’t even listed on this week’s depth chart. That could be because of an injury, but he has carried the ball more than 20 times in the Utes’ last two games. So, I expect that he will likely do the same if he’s healthy enough to play. His 78 carries is almost equal to the number of carries by Utah’s next two rushers combined.
Speaking of the next two leading rushers, they are freshman running back Micah Bernard and Rising. So far this season, Bernard has run the ball 49 times for 281 yards and one touchdown. Rising, on the other hand, has run 32 times for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Comparitively, that’s about one-third the number of carries DTR. That seems to go along with the fact that Rising is more of a pro-style QB and it’s still a significant chunk of the Utah rushing attack.
The Utah passing game seems to like to spread the ball around to a lot of different receivers. Junior tight end Dalton Kincaid leads the team in receiving yards with 287 and is second only to the team’s other tight end Brant Kuithe, also a junior, in receiving touchdowns. Kincaid has three to Kuithe’s four. But the favorite receiving target has been Britain Covey who has caught 28 balls so far.
While the team’s top wide receivers certainly factor into the passing game with each averaging more than 15 yards per catch, they just don’t have the number of touches or receiving touchdowns that other guys have.
Redshirt freshman Devaughn Vele leads the team in yards per catch with more than 20. He just doesn’t have as many receptions as some of the other guys. Junior Solomon Enis also doesn’t have as many receptions as the tight ends or Covey has out of the backfield. He’s probably the Utes’ weakest link at receiver with an average of just 11.29 yards per catch.
The final receiver worth mentioning is an old friend of Bruin fans and that’s grad transfer Theo Howard. After seemingly being jettisoned by Chip Kelly two seasons ago, Howard transfered to Oklahoma for the 2020 season. Then, disaster struck for Howard. He tore his achilles in January 2020, but still managed to recover in time to open the season against Missouri State. After last season, he re-entered the transfer portal and went looking for a school which needed receivers before choosing to head to Utah. He has only made nine catches for 134 yards so far this season, but something tells me that Andy Ludwig is going to make sure that a motivated Howard plays a big role in tonight’s game.
The Bruin secondary will need to find a way to stop their former teammate and the rest of Utah’s receivers tonight if they want to win this game.