Utah ground game has chance to rebound against porous UCLA
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It’s an odd world that Kyle Whittingham is currently living in.
The Utah coach has built his program on the foundation of a strong running game but the Utes seem to have lost their identity.
Whittingham hired offensive coordinator Troy Taylor to improve the passing game, which has been one of the worst in the Pac-12 since the Utes joined the league in 2011. The aerial attack has taken a step forward under the quarterback guru, but the running game has fallen off. The Utes currently rank No. 85 in the nation with 146.75 rushing yards per game.
“It’s different for sure,” Whittingham said. “If it’s not one thing, it’s another, I guess. You’re never going to have everything exactly where you want it. We have had a dominant run game for a lot of years and our inability to throw the football with enough effectiveness is what we felt was holding us back.
“We got to a certain point with that M.O. and that mentality, so tried to jumpstart the throw game and consequently the run game has suffered. It is odd.”
Utah will have the opportunity to get back on track Friday night against a UCLA team that ranks last in the nation in run defense at No. 130. The Bruins have allowed 307.13 rushing yards per game this season.
Utah running back Zack Moss had a career-high 141 yards against USC, but has failed to reach 60 yards in the two games since. He had just 22 combined carries in the last two games, though quarterback Tyler Huntley is active in the running game.
“That’s been our bread and butter and it’s kind of sad to see that it went down,” center Lo Falemaka said. “I know Coach Taylor likes to pass the ball, but we should be running the ball a lot more. I don’t necessarily feel like we need to stop running the ball once we get stopped. It takes a little while to get into the groove.”
Other things to watch when Utah hosts UCLA:
QB QUESTION: The status of UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is up in the air after he suffered a hand injury in the loss to Washington last week. His 339.1 passing yards per game rank No. 4 in the nation. Backup Devon Modster will play if Rosen can’t go, but coach Jim Mora did say that Rosen could play even if he didn’t practice this week. He did not practice Monday or Tuesday. Rosen’s toughness was questioned in the media and Mora was not pleased.
“I think it’s ludicrous that anyone would question Josh Rosen’s toughness when they don’t know the nature of his injury,” Mora said.
AT STAKE: UCLA and Utah are both 4-4 and in danger of missing a bowl game. Teams need six wins to become bowl eligible and both have a challenging remaining schedule. The Utes must play No. 12 Washington and No. 25 Washington State among their final four games. The Bruins have No. 17 USC, California and Arizona State, which is led by rising star QB Khalil Tate. Utah hasn’t missed a bowl since 2013 and has been left out just twice since 2003. The Bruins didn’t play in a bowl game in 2016 and haven’t been shut out in back-to-back seasons since 1989 and 1990.
QUOTABLE: “His accuracy is unbelievable,” Utah cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah said about Rosen. “The kid is able to put the ball in certain spots. Sam Darnold has an unbelievably strong arm and he throws a beautiful ball. Rosen’s arm is strong, but just so accurate. Whether it’s the deep ball, intermediate ball, short ball, ball from hash to opposite sideline, he can make all the throws.”
FACTS & FIGURES: The Utes continue to struggle in the red zone and are tied for No. 118 in the country with a 46.15 red zone touchdown percentage. ... The Bruins defense ranks No. 121 in the nation, allowing 487.5 yards per game. ... UCLA’s 121.13 rushing yards per game rank No. 109 in the country.
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