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Los Angeles • There's no question of whether Utah football has respect for its 3-4 opponent this week.
Everything about UCLA the talent, the history, the sense of place demands it. And the No. 19 Utes (6-1, 3-1) aren't about to let up their focus with so many of their goals still in sight.
There could be a temptation to dream, even from the second they pull into the parking lot of the Rose Bowl a venue the Utes wouldn't mind reaching for the first time this postseason, and still could.
But senior defensive end Hunter Dimick said the program isn't going to let their thoughts drift ahead of Saturday's nationally televised matchup against the Bruins.
"I guess you could say it crosses your mind, what could be," he said. "But if you start thinking too much about what could be, you lose it. You're gonna get beat this week or that week. You've got to stay focused."
The game which could either keep Utah at the forefront of the Pac-12 South or cloud the division race seems to hinge on which team can bounce back offensively.
UCLA's problem: It can't run. The Bruins had 43 yards on the ground last week in a loss to Washington State, and are averaging a league-low 91 yards per game, despite having four- and five-star talents on offensive line and in the backfield. While quarterback injury problems are also a big question mark for the week, with Josh Rosen potentially missing his second straight start, UCLA coach Jim Mora has been most troubled by the run-game struggles, this week promising "changes" to the offense to get more out of it.
Many of the Utes expressed bafflement as to why the Bruins can't get it going on the ground. Senior cornerback Dominique Hatfield called it "shocking." On paper, it's a significant matchup advantage for the Utes, with the No. 27 run defense in the country (130 yards per game), but Hatfield said the defense won't take it for granted that UCLA won't be able to run, particularly since the team is expecting to miss free safety Marcus Williams and linebacker Sunia Tauteoli this week due to injury.
"We can't take it light," he said. "We can't just look at the previous games and say, 'Just because they can't run right now doesn't mean they can't run against us.' We just gotta be on it."
Utah's own offense is coming off a rough week. After his team passed for 42 yards last week in rough weather, coach Kyle Whittingham reflected that the Utes should've thrown more in the second half (the team attempted 13 only passes total).
Junior quarterback Troy Williams said he wasn't concerned about "bouncing back" statistically in his return to his hometown in front of as many as 100 family members and friends.
"I'm not too much of a stats guy; I don't think I gotta throw this many yards or anything like that," he said. "As long as we win the game, I don't care how much I throw for."
But Utah will likely have to throw more Saturday, which is a dangerous prospect: UCLA boasts the No. 7 passing efficiency defense in the country, with defensive backs who rotate in seamlessly in the secondary. While Williams hasn't thrown an interception in Pac-12 play, the Bruins have picked off eight passes this year.
Last season, Utah's passing attack floundered at home against UCLA: Travis Wilson had only 110 yards against the Bruins.
Utah has run 322 times this season to 211 passing attempts despite its pledge of looking for balance. But Utah is hopeful that leading receiver Tim Patrick can play this weekend (he had limited snaps last week), and that will help boost the passing attack.
"If you don't have balance, you're not going to win a championship," offensive co-coordinator Aaron Roderick said. "If you look at our season, we've been committed to throwing the ball down the field. I think we'll continue to do that this Saturday."
Traditionally, the Utah- UCLA game has been a thrilling one with major implications in the division. The past four meetings have been decided by one score.
With UCLA languishing in fifth place, some of the stakes have been toned down in the lead-in. But Utah's number of contributors from Southern California say it's still a special game for them.
It has to be.
"Well it's my last go-around," Hatfield said. "It's the last game I get to play in front of my 'home crowd.' With all the things we want to accomplish as a team this year, this one's gotta be special. This one we need."
No. 19 Utah at UCLA
P At the Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.
Kickoff • 2 p.m. MDT
TV • FOX
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 6-1, 3-1; UCLA 3-4, 1-3
Series history • UCLA leads, 11-3
Last meeting • UCLA 17, Utah 9 (Nov. 21, 2015)
About the Utes • After not having a 100-yard back in the first five games, the Utes have now had two back-to-back in Armand Shyne (Arizona) and Joe Williams (Oregon State). … Utah leads the nation in time of possession with an average of 35 minutes, 47 seconds of possession per game. … Last week's 42-yard throwing effort was the first game in which junior quarterback Troy Williams failed to throw for more than 200 yards against a Pac-12 opponent.
About the Bruins • UCLA's opponents are averaging 344 yards per game, and the Bruins' defense hasn't allowed an opponent to crack the 400-yard mark in six straight games. … UCLA saw eight NFL Draft picks last year, the most the school had produced in one year since 1988 (10). … The UCLA defense is allowing only a 50.6 percent pass completion rate, which is the lowest in the Pac-12.