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Utah manhandled UCLA's defensive front in Saturday's upset victory, rushing 55 times for 242 yards.

Coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday that key to that effort was redshirt freshman right guard Salesi Uhatafe — popularly known by teammates and coaches as Leka — who received his first career start.

"We felt it was a point in time where he was ready to take that next step and get some [more] playing time, which he did," Whittingham said. "He played virtually that entire game, and played very well."

On 76 plays — more than he had in the previous four games combined (46), Uhatafe did not allow a sack.

Coaches have been high on Uhatafe since he arrived on campus, Whittingham said, but he's learned what Division I football requires from a mental standpoint, and that makes him one of Utah's top five guys at the moment.

Not starting was Junior Salt, a senior captain who had previously manned the left guard spot. Salt swapped series with versatile sophomore Isaac Asiata — the previous starter at right guard.

The move was not in any way an indictment of Salt's play, Whittingham said.

"Junior's got a great attitude. He's got some things nagging him, physically, and so we are not down on Junior Salt at all."

Acclaim to fame

Beating the nation's No. 8 team cast a pretty bright spotlight on the Utes, and accolades are following.

For starters, Utah is ranked in the AP poll for the first time since 2010, jumping to No. 24 after receiving no votes following a 28-27 loss to Washington State.

Senior defensive end Nate Orchard was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week and College Football Performance Awards National Defensive Lineman of the Week after recording four of his nation-leading 8.5 sacks on potential first-round pick Brett Hundley.

Orchard is the Utes' fourth Pac-12 player of the week this season — wideout Kaelin Clay, kicker Andy Phillips and linebacker Gionni Paul are the others. Phillips and running back Devontae Booker were also nominated.

Adding to the cluttered mantel tops, Phillips — who went 3 for 3, including the game-winner — was named a Lou Groza Star of the Week for the second time this season, while punter Tom Hackett — who had four punts downed inside the 11 — was honored as the CFPA National Punter of the Week.

"Optimisitic" on Carter

After senior free safety Tevin Carter was deeply missed against the Cougars, Whittingham told reporters he was "optimistic" Carter would play against the Bruins.

He did, picking off Hundley and returning it 27 yards for a score and recording a tackle for a loss. But he also left the game again — pedaling on the bike and jogging while supervised by trainers, but never re-entering.

Whittingham said Monday — without disclosing what is hampering Carter — that he's choosing to believe Carter will be ready again against Oregon State and potential NFL quarterback Sean Mannion.

"We hope so. He's struggling with some things this year. He's an impact player. When he's on the field, he makes his presence known."

If Carter is not able to play, Whittingham said Utah will likely start true freshman Andre Godfrey in his stead.

Not dwelling on drops

Without multiple drops against WSU, Utah might be 5-0 and ranked who-knows-how-high right now.

Against the Bruins, bobbling almost bit them again.

Whittingham said Monday that Utah will work to correct that in practice, but that it's not a matter of effort. Some main perpetrators — Dres Anderson, Clay and, unusually, Kenneth Scott — are already hard workers, he said.

"You dwell on it too much and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and it seems to compound the problem. We're just going to do some extra things in practice," Whittingham said.

Deep impact

Catchless against WSU, Anderson made only two grabs against UCLA, and one of those went for a loss of four.

But boy, did he make the other one count.

Anderson's 42-yard grab over two Bruins in the right corner of the end zone gave Utah a 14-0 lead and, maybe more importantly, a reason to believe they could hang with the Pac-12 South favorites.

"He's my roommate, so I hear, day in and day out, that he always has confidence," said quarterback Kendal Thompson. "He wants the ball in triple- or quadruple-coverage. That's just the beauty of the beast with receivers, they always feel they're wide open."

The "Jackpot"-style throw was prompted by single coverage on the outside and Thompson's belief that the safety manning the middle of the field was unable to get there and make a play on the ball. At best, Thompson thought, he'd go for the hit.

"So I felt like Dres could go up and make a play for me, and he did."

Notable Norris

Ten tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss — and we haven't even mentioned him yet.

Junior linebacker Jared Norris is "just a blue-collar guy," said Whittingham, a guy who knows a thing or two about playing linebacker. "A guy that's not real flashy at times, just gets his job done. Snap in and snap out."

Norris leads the Utes with 45 tackles and has four sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup this season.

Whittingham said that like fellow junior Paul, whose breakout game against Michigan attracted a little more attention, Norris has exceptional instincts.

"Jared, I think, is one of the more underrated players in this conference. I think he's one of the best linebackers in the league, and he doesn't really get the recognition that he deserves. If he keeps playing the way he has, it'll come eventually."

On the road

The biggest road win of Whittingham's career not only kept Utah apace with its Pac-12 brethren, but made the Utes a hotter sell in one of their most vital markets: Southern California.

"You work your tail off in recruiting all the time, but the best thing to bolster recruiting is winning, there's no doubt about that," Whittingham said. "And to win in a real hotbed of ours —┬áthe footprint of our recruiting, with Southern California being one of the three main areas that we do recruit — that's a big plus for us."

The Utes already had 35 players with California ties, and in their 2015 recruiting class, they have four more.

And maybe it will help stem the tide of damage UCLA has done in Utah's own backyard, with the Bruins stealing players like Timpview's Xavier Su'a-Filo and, most recently, Herriman's Andre James.

Interestingly, at the Rose Bowl on an official visit to UCLA was coveted Brighton outside linebacker Osa Masina, who also took an official visit to watch his brother's team thump Michigan.

Twitter: @matthew_piper