Coach Kyle Whittingham is pretty sure the UCLA Bruins will turn out to be an awfully good team this season.
Still, even he was surprised.
Surprised at how poorly his Utah Utes managed almost all of the important phases of the game in their 31-10 season-opening loss against the Bruins at the Rose Bowl on Saturday. Surprised that they sputtered so badly on offense with a passing game he expected to be a strength, and surprised that they could scarcely wave a hand in the quarterback's face or adequately defend a pass downfield.
"You're not going to win many football games that way," he said.
On the other hand, however, you're probably not going to play many teams as good as the Bruins, either.
So while the Bruins set their sights on making a run at the Pac-10 Conference championship, the Utes will get their chance to rebound from their first opening loss in six years and worst defeat in nearly a decade with a three-game stretch against teams they should probably overpower - no matter how bad they looked against the Bruins.
"We'll be back," safety Eric Weddle promised. "We'll be ready for next week and finish out the season right."
The Utes open their home schedule against Division I-AA Northern Arizona at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday, then travel to play Utah State and San Diego State. All three teams lost their openers convincingly.
But until they actually play those games and live up to their expectations, the Utes must live with the lingering uncertainty about how much of their season-opening performance can be blamed on their own shortcomings, and not simply the Bruins.
After all, the running game was barely adequate, the passing game shockingly ineffective. Ratliff completed just 13 of 31 passes to only four receivers - wasn't that corps supposed to be even deeper this season? - and the Utes failed on all 11 of their third-down conversion attempts.
Defensively, the Utes handled the running game all right, but failed to get any pressure at all on UCLA quarterback Ben Olson.
That's largely because Olson utilized smart three-step drops, bootlegs and quick releases that cut down the amount of time the Utes had to reach him, and it compounded the difficulty the linebackers and defensive backs had in covering the UCLA receivers one-on-one. Olson "really put it to us," Weddle said, throwing for 318 yards and three touchdowns to 10 receivers.
"What can you do?" Weddle added. "You just have to fix some mistakes, come back next week and work harder."
Certainly, the Utes would like to get that offense working again.
They finished last season ranked 12th in the nation by averaging 473 yards of offense per game, but managed only 287 yards against the Bruins while producing just 10 points. Worse, backup quarterback Tommy Grady gave seven of them back with his interception that was returned for a touchdown.
"It's hard to win games when the offense nets only three points," Ratliff said. "So we just have to execute better and look past some mistakes and just keep getting better every week."
Turning the Keys
1. Predict the Unpredictable
The Utes had major problems coping with the uncertainty of a season opener, and quarterback Brett Ratliff never did find his rhythm amid constantly changing looks the Bruins threw at him.
2. Don't Get Run Over
One of the few things the Utes did well was stop the run. UCLA's top two backs gained just 66 yards on 23 carries, the Bruins compiled just 107 yards on the ground.
3. Weather the Heat
Temperatures at game time hovered near 100 degrees, but they did not seem to have a serious impact.
0-1 (0-0 Mountain West)
Sept. 2 at UCLA L, 31-10
Last Game: W, 31-10 vs. Utah
Record: 1-0 Next: vs. Rice, Saturday
Sept. 9 N. Arizona 6 p.m.
Last Game: L, 35-14 at Arizona State
Record: 0-1 Next: at Utah, Saturday
Sept. 16 at Utah State 6 p.m.
Last Game: L, 38-7 at Wyoming
Record: 0-1 Next: at Arkansas, Saturday
Sept. 23 at San Diego St. 6 p.m.
Last Game: L, 34-27 vs. UTEP
Record: 0-1 Next: at Wisconsin, Sept. 16
Sept. 30 Boise State 1 p.m.
Last Game: W, 45-0 vs. Sac. State
Record: 1-0 Next: vs. Oregon State, Thur.
Oct. 5 TCU 7 p.m.
Last Game: W, 17-7 at Baylor
Record: 1-0 Next: vs. UC Davis, Saturday
Oct. 14 at Wyoming 1 p.m.
Last Game: W, 38-7 vs. Utah State
Record: 1-0 Next: at Virginia, Saturday
Oct. 19 at New Mexico 7 p.m.
Last Game: L, 17-6 vs. Portland State
Record: 0-1 Next: at N.M. State, Saturday
Oct. 28 UNLV 2 p.m.
Last Game: W, 54-10 vs. Idaho State
Record: 1-0 Next: at Iowa State, Saturday
Nov. 11 Colorado State Noon
Last Game: W, 30-6 vs. Weber State
Record: 1-0 Next: vs. Colorado, Saturday
Nov. 18 at Air Force 5:30 p.m.
Last Game: None
Record: 0-0 Next: at Tennessee, Sat.
Nov. 25 Brigham Young 1:30 p.m.
Last Game: L, 16-13 at Arizona
Record: 0-1 Next: vs. Tulsa, Saturday
Northern Arizona at Utah
SATURDAY, 6 P.M., TV: MTN.