White's big game dooms UCLA in 31-6 loss to Utah
The UCLA Bruins saw Utah's John White carry the ball 33 times, but it was his one reception that broke the game open.
''We were right in it at the half and still right there when we had them facing third-and-13. (Sean) Westgate had their running back covered, but the ball was perfect and he made a great catch,'' said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel.
White rushed for 167 yards, his game-changing catch was one of his three touchdowns, and Conroy Black returned an interception 67 yards for another score to lift Utah to a 31-6 victory over UCLA on Saturday night.
The win makes the Utes (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12) bowl eligible for the ninth straight year and gave offensive coordinator Norm Chow another victory against a former team.
With wintry conditions at the start of the game, the Utes became even more one-dimensional behind the diminutive White. He didn't disappoint, vaulting from 10th on Utah's single-season rushing chart all the way to No. 4 with 1,191 yards - passing Eddie Johnson, Eddie Wide, Keith Williams, Quinton Ganther and Del Rodgers.
''That was very special for me - playing against UCLA, who didn't pick me up. But that's OK, I'm here and I give everything I've got each play,'' White said of the Bruins' recruiting oversight.
UCLA (5-5, 4-3) saw its grip on a possible Pac-12 South title slip away with two Kevin Prince interceptions. The Bruins will need a win at home against Colorado or at USC to qualify for a bowl for the 10th time in the last 12 seasons.
''We have to grow up and play well in these kind of environments. We need to get better from this,'' Neuheisel said.
The Bruins outgained Utah 295-291 but committed 12 penalties for 91 yards and didn't score a touchdown for the first time this year.
The win was Utah's third straight. Utah's defense, ranked No. 3 overall in the Pac-12, held the Bruins to a pair of Tyler Gonzalez field goals. It intercepted Prince twice, with Black taking the second one back for the TD.
''Utah defense was moving around a lot, and the crowd noise and their timing up their blitzes really threw us off. They had a great plan for us and were stopping everything we wanted to do,'' said Prince, who was 12 for 24 passing.
Black was the hero a week ago, when he made an end-zone interception in a win over Arizona.
''Everybody was giving me a hard time about last week when I cut back after my pick instead of running straight. So this time I have to thank God that I got another chance to take it to the house,'' Black said.
White's 1-yard touchdown run gave Utah a 7-3 lead with 5:34 left in the second quarter. The junior running back accounted for all 39 yards on the scoring drive with seven carries.
Utah quarterback Jon Hays was just 2 for 7 for 5 yards passing in the first half, but was 3 for 3 on the opening drive of the second half. He passed 16 yards to DeVonte Christopher on third-and-5, then hit Dres Anderson for 33 yards over the middle on the next play. He capped the drive with a 13-yard TD pass to White, who had beaten Westgate in the corner of the end zone, for a 14-3 Utah lead.
''We were late making some adjustments and missed some communication with the secondary. But they made big plays, you need to give them credit,'' Westgate said.
White, who later scored on a 22-yard run to give Utah a 21-3 lead late in the third quarter, said, ''That was the craziest catch in the world. The defender was in my face so I couldn't see the ball until the last second. I just put my hands up and really focused.''
UCLA cut the gap to 21-6 on Gonzalez's 35-yard field goal early in the fourth, but Black's interception return sent the Bruins limping home.
It was a shocking turnaround for the Bruins, who entered on a two-game winning streak and feeling pretty good about themselves.
''Coming into the game we felt ready. But you saw what happened. We obviously weren't as ready as we thought we were,'' Neuheisel said.
Ninety minutes before kickoff, a pair of UCLA offensive linemen could be found playing shirtless in the snow, tossing wobbly passes around like school kids. Not to be outdone, up to a dozen Utah players began warming bare-chested a few minutes later, large flakes falling all around them and starting to stick.
A UCLA sports information official said the Bruins hadn't played a ''snow game'' in at least 31 years. There were flurries in the EagleBank Bowl in Washington, D.C., in December 2009 when the Bruins rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat Temple 30-21.
''Early, the weather kept us from throwing effectively, but the weather cleared and we should have been able to throw and be consistent. But we could not,'' Neuheisel said.
The game was reminiscent of the last time the Bruins came to Salt Lake City. In 2007, UCLA was ranked No. 11, but the Utes forced five turnovers and kept the Bruins from scoring a touchdown for the first time in four years on their way to a 44-6 upset.