by Dave Miller
October 03, 02013
UCLA travels to Salt Lake City on Thursday night for a Pac-12 matchup with Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Bruins will be playing their first conference game, while the Utes will be looking to even up their league mark at 1-1. Both teams had the previous week off to prepare for this contest.
Let's take a look at three things to watch in the clash between Jim L. Mora's Bruins and Kyle Whittingham's Utes on Thursday evening.
UCLA (3-0, 0-0 Pac-12) at Utah (3-1, 0-1), 10 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Line: UCLA by 4
Series: UCLA holds a 9-2 edge
US PRESSWIRETravis Wilson is No. 15 nationally in passing efficiency.
1. The QB showcase: This showdown will feature two of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12 as well as in the country, with UCLA's Heisman Trophy hopeful Brett Hundley squaring off against fellow dual-threat Travis Wilson of Utah. Hundley is throwing for over 280 yards per game, and he is just four touchdown passes short of tying Troy Aikman (41) for fifth place in school history. Meanwhile, Wilson is No. 15 nationally in passing efficiency, and he has a receiver in Dres Anderson who has recorded three straight 100-yard games. Hundley and the Bruins rank second to Baylor in total yards per game (614), while Wilson and the Utes will try to expose a Bruins secondary that is young, featuring sophomores Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau at cornerback.
2. Production on the ground: While all eyes will be on the two prolific signal-callers, both teams have running backs that have been productive and integral to their respective teams' offenses. Jordon James is a legit No. 1 running back, as he has three straight 100-yard games. His 141.3-yards per game average is fifth in the country. Mora's squad will actually add another weapon to that offense when Damien Thigpen makes his season debut against the Utes. He is a valuable pass-catcher in addition to runner and kick returner. The Bruins' loaded backfield also features Paul Perkins, Malcolm Jones and Steven Manfro. Meanwhile, Dennis Erickson's arrival has helped the Utah offense, which struggled last year but is averaging 42 points per game this fall. The Utes are very balanced, so James "Bubba" Poole will get plenty of work. He leads the Utes in carries (58) and yards (304). UCLA is used to seeing that shotgun spread offense every day in practice, so the Bruins will be ready. But will the Utes' offensive line hold up? The unit is playing much better this year than in 2012.
3. The X-Factors: Putting pressure on the Utes' Wilson and stopping Poole will be of utmost importance for the Bruins as they try to thwart the balanced Utah offense. Defensive ends Cassius Marsh and Keenan Graham have combined to record four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, so they will test the Utes' offensive line. Meanwhile, keep an eye on special teams when the Utes are kicking. The Bruins have blocked 10 kicks since Mora took over last season. Defensively for the Utes, they are No. 29 in the FBS in rushing yards allowed. Will they make the Bruins one-dimensional, putting extra pressure on Hundley?
Since the Bruins' 23-9 victory over BYU in 1995, they have lost 44-6 to the Utes in 2007, 59-0 to BYU in 2008 and 31-6 to the Utes in 2011. Can they break the hex in the state of Utah on Thursday night?
Dave Miller, the college football editor and writer for the National Football Post, is on Twitter @Miller_Dave.