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Since starting as a true freshman in 2011, Eric Rowe has proven fast, strong, smart, tough, you name it.

The only thing he hasn't proven is consistently sure-handed.

Although Rowe's 25 pass breakups are fourth all-time at the U., he has just three career interceptions.

But Rowe's latest — his first since a move from free safety to cornerback — may be a glimpse of his full potential.

Drifting back into his own end zone, Connor Halliday threw it up for grabs between Rowe and Isiah Myers. Rowe read the play, reached up with his right hand and tipped it to himself before dashing untouched into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

"I feel more confident, definitely," Rowe said. "Getting that pick — it wasn't just me, but having the defensive line pressure the quarterback, and helping me get the pick — that's a confidence-builder."

It's taken Rowe longer than he thought it would take to get comfortable playing corner against the likes of Myers (this week he'll face Bruins' leading wideout Jordan Payton), but he feels he's improving.

Alas, so is UCLA starter Brett Hundley, he said. Rowe said Hundley is an even better thrower than he was last year, when he threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass in the Bruins' 34-27 win.

He's got a score to settle with Hundley.

The last time the Utes were in Pasadena, a Hundley sideline pass just barely beat a gambling Rowe to Shaquelle Evans, who ran 64 yards for a score in a one-touchdown Bruins victory.

"I remember that play," Rowe said. "I was fingertips away."

Rowe's hands could again be the difference this Saturday.


No letdown for Booker • With No. 1 status comes great responsibility, Devontae Booker acknowledges.

The junior running back is taking his featured back role pretty seriously. Just because he ran for 178 yards last week doesn't mean there isn't things to work on.

Things like pass protection.

"[Travis Wilson] got hit quite a bit out there," Booker said about his focus this week. "So pretty much for the most part, blocking, knowing my assignments, just protecting him."

Although UCLA has the eighth-best rushing defense in the conference, they feature a pair of linebackers who have provoked much discussion this week: Eric Kendricks and Myles Jack. Kendricks is one of the top tacklers in the nation, with 11.8 per game, and has recovered a fumble and picked off a pass. Jack is better known for his two-way play, but is a menace in his own right who can get to the ball quickly.

What stands out the most to Booker about the two linebackers is their closing speed, as well as their physicality.

"Those guys, they're ballers out there like no other," Booker said. "They fight hard every play, they ball every play, they make good plays as needed. Watching film, these guys are always around the ball."


Too fast, too furious? • Some on social media questioned whether Dave Christensen's breakneck pace on offense has the effect of tiring out Utah's defense more than it does the opponents.

Obviously, when it doesn't work, there may be some truth to that.

Whittingham cautioned Wednesday against drawing conclusions based on defensive statistics, though.

"I noticed Stanford is leading the league in defense and has played by far the least amount of snaps on defense," he said. "When you slow things down on offense, it certainly allows for better defensive numbers. But you've got to choose how you want to operate and what your philosophy is. There's several different ways to win."

Whittingham said that if they defend 100 snaps and concede 400 yards, that's better than playing 50 snaps and conceding 300.

The Utes also continue to practice for ball-control situations — what they call "sugar huddle."

"You may see that show up throughout the course of the year, because there's a time and a place for that. And so it's not all what we call fastball tempo. It's not exclusively that."


Lowell's role • The Utes spin a lot of linemen through their defensive rotation, but notably one of the team's freshmen has been getting a bunch of those reps.

Lowell Lotulelei, still best known as Star's younger brother at this early point in his career, was at the center of many three-man fronts against Washington State, allowing Jason Fanaika, Hunter Dimick and Nate Orchard to get pressure off the edge. Taking on double- or triple-teams wasn't really atypical for him, he said.

"It's pretty much what we go against every day in the inside," he said. "It was really just to try and free up the outside guys so we could get a better rush."

The Utes got three sacks on Connor Halliday, keeping the team among the nation's leaders in sacks. But obviously with a loss last weekend, the Utes would like to see more pressure. On passing downs, Lotulelei might be developing into the guy who eats up room in the middle.

For now, he's still working on watching what he eats.

"I feel like I'm not in the best shape I could be," he said. "That's my No. 1 area right now."


Gone by 60 minutes • It was clear against Washington State that Utah's defensive backs were tired, and it was hard to blame them.

The Cougars had the bulk of possession, and Halliday relentless peppered the edges of the Ute defense, forcing Utah's slightest players to make tackle after tackle.

Saturday's stunning loss was also, for all intents and purposes, the first full, uninterrupted football game for Utah's starters this season — following blowouts against Idaho State and Fresno State and a two-hour rain delay against Michigan.

"I think that was like a wake-up call," Rowe said. "The past couple games, we've been playing kind of, like, halves, because we've been beating teams pretty bad. It was just a good wakeup call, like 'Alight, Pac-12, play the full 60 no matter what.'"

There may be something to that, Whittingham said, but added to nobody's surprise: That's no excuse.


Film work • Whittingham admits he remembers nothing about last Friday night's film session.

But before you blame the Washington State loss on the head coach's study habits, know that we're talking about blockbusters, not blocking schemes.

Utah's player leadership committee selects two films for players to choose from on Friday nights before the game.

Last week's?

"I'm drawing a blank," he said. "It obviously wasn't that great, because I can't remember."

— Matthew Piper and Kyle Goon

Twitter: @matthew_piper and @kylegoon