UCLA Bruins
UCLA-Utah Preview
UCLA Bruins

UCLA-Utah Preview

Published Nov. 19, 2015 5:29 p.m. ET

(AP) - It was all good just a week ago.

No. 18 Utah sat atop the Pac-12 South with a game cushion and the inside track for a berth in the conference title game and with a shot to play in the College Football Playoff.

Everything changed with a 37-30 double-overtime loss to Arizona last Saturday.

Gone is the division lead - Utah (8-2, 5-2) is now tied with USC.


Gone is control - both USC and UCLA (7-3, 4-3) can earn a berth in the Pac-12 title game by winning out.

Gone are the playoffs - it's highly unlikely that any two-loss Pac-12 team will be placed in the final four.

Gone is star running back Devontae Booker, who will miss the final two games of the regular season after having knee surgery Thursday.

''These next two weeks will be very interesting,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said leading up to Saturday's home game against the Bruins. ''We have no margin for error, obviously. Our backs are to the wall and we've got to find a way to beat UCLA this weekend. USC has two tough games at Oregon and UCLA the next week. So, anything can happen and we're by no means out of it.

''But we're certainly nowhere near in as good of a position as we were last week. But that's the Pac-12. Stanford got beat. Everybody takes turns beating everyone up. That's the nature of the conference.''

The biggest goal for the Utes now is their first conference title since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 and first appearance in the Rose Bowl. A January bowl would be just the third in school history since 1939.

First, though, Utah has to defeat both UCLA and Colorado in the last two weeks of the regular season. Then it needs USC, which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Utes, to lose to either Oregon or UCLA in the final two weeks. Finally, Utah would need to win the Pac-12 championship game.

Not helping matters, however, is Booker is unavailable for the remainder of the regular season and perhaps the Utes' postseason.

Booker is the centerpiece of the offense for the Utes, ranking third in the Pac-12 in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns. He is third in school history with 2,773 yards rushing and is hopeful to participate in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 30.

UCLA hurt its hopes of a conference title game berth with last week's 31-27 home loss to Washington State on a touchdown with three seconds to go.

Whereas Bruins coach Jim Mora Jr. said he was happy with how his team came out energized for practice this week despite the disappointment, there were mixed emotions Monday as the Utes tried to move on. Whittingham was as optimistic as could be and said if anyone would have told him two months ago that the team would be 8-2 and tied for first that he would have taken it.

''But still disappointed we're not 9-1 because we had a chance - had several chances,'' Whittingham said.

Cornerback Justin Thomas said he moved on pretty quickly, but both he and punter Tom Hackett added that not everyone had.

The heartache is understandable considering the team seemed to be on a historic run with playoff opportunities that ended in a double-overtime loss to an underdog.

''They're still moping around, some of them,'' Thomas said of his teammates. ''That's pretty tough, but we've just got to be positive about the situation. We've got two more games left.

''We need help from other teams, but whatever happens, happens. We're still in a bowl game, though.''

Being at home would seemingly help Utah's cause, having gone 5-0 in Salt Lake City.

The Bruins, however, relish going on the road, where they have won 11 of 12 - the lone loss coming to then-No. 15 Stanford on Oct. 15.

"I don't know if it's these kids' DNA or their background or what it is, but when they're the underdog and people tell them they can't do it and they're on the road in a hostile environment, something happens to them," Mora said. "They rise up. I would hope that could happen again for us."

Mora won't have to worry about slowing down Booker, who was 239 yards shy of a second consecutive 1,500-yard season.

He will be replaced by Joe Williams, who has 78 rushing yards on 19 attempts.

Booker rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown in a 30-28 win at the Rose Bowl last year as Utah won on a field goal with 34 seconds left. These teams have split four meetings since the Utes joined the Pac-12, though UCLA leads the all-time series 10-3.

The Bruins may need another big game from quarterback Josh Rosen.

The freshman had his fourth 300-yard effort in five games last week and was not intercepted for a fourth consecutive game but also didn't have a touchdown pass for the first time.


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