UCLA Football, Utah Set For Decisive Ranked Showdown in Pasadena

Coming off a big upset win over Washington, the Bruins have a second-straight test against another major Pac-12 foe.

The last few times the Bruins and Utes have gone head to head, the blue and gold have entered the matchup as heavy underdogs and the end result has backed that up.

In 2018, coach Chip Kelly’s first year in Westwood, UCLA lost 41-10 at home to drop to 2-6 on the year. The Bruins lost to the Utes 49-3 the following season when a win would have gotten them to .500. In 2021, Utah defended its home turf again and shut down UCLA’s chances at a Pac-12 title with a 44-24 win.

That one-sided recent history has stuck in quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s mind, so he always knew that Saturday’s upcoming matchup between No. 18 UCLA football (5-0, 2-0 Pac-12) and No. 11 Utah (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12) would be a big one.

“I’ve circled about three or four games before the start of the season, Utah being one of them,” Thompson-Robinson said. “The only thing I remember is 2019 when we came into their place and they kicked my butt around a few times, so that’s the last memory I have, that’s the last taste I have in my mouth.”

This time around, the Bruins actually have the superior record, and they have plenty of momentum in the rankings and conference standings after upsetting then-No. 18 Washington in Week 5. The Utes’ lone loss came on the road against Florida in Week 1, so they do enter the contest on a four-game winning streak and as a 3.5-point favorite.

UCLA was an underdog against Washington a week ago, and that didn’t stop them from picking up a big home win and improving to 5-0 for the first time since 2013. Thompson-Robinson said the Bruins have been practicing with a different mindset now that the victories have been rolling in, and that they don’t want their winning ways to end anytime soon.

“We’re handling it a lot better than we handle defeat, I’ll tell you that,” Thompson-Robinson said. “Guys, I think, have tasted what success feels like now and now we’re hungry for it, we’re trying to be addicted to winning, so I think that’s where we’re going right now. We know what it takes and so now we’ve just got to go do it.”

Thompson-Robinson is 13-3 in his last 16 starts, but he is 0-1 against the Utes in his career. He missed the 2018 and 2021 matchups due to injuries, and he had one of the worst statistical performances of his career when he put up no touchdowns and two interceptions with a 95.5 passer rating against Utah in 2019.

The fifth-year senior has the best passer rating in the Pac-12 since the start of last season, though, and many of his advanced stats are among the best in the nation. 

Utah, meanwhile, is allowing the fewest total yards and passing yards in the conference with coach Kyle Whittingham once again leading the way from the sidelines.

“They present a lot of problems – they’re active, they create a lot of turnovers, that’s by design and how well they play defensively,” said coach Chip Kelly. “They really understand their system, it’s been in place for a really, really long time, so we’ve got a big task on Saturday – our offense versus their defense.”

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Cameron Rising has a 166.0 passer rating, which is good for third-best in the Pac-12. Running back Tavion Thomas is top 10 in rushing after breaking out last season as well, giving the Utes a comparable star duo to Thompson-Robinson and Zach Charbonnet.

Whichever side comes out on top will earn a significant leg up in the race for the conference crown, and a 6-0 start would be the best by any UCLA team since 2005.

Kickoff between UCLA and Utah is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at the Rose Bowl on Saturday.

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