When freshman quarterback Travis Wilson was announced as the starter, Utah was hoping to get a spark that would propel them to their first Pac-12 win of the season against UCLA.
Starting for the first time in his career in front of dozens of family and friends, Wilson played reasonably well given the circumstances, throwing for 220 yards and a 70% completion percentage. However, the Utes were plagued by the same mistakes that have haunted them throughout Pac-12 play, and fell just short of the Bruins.
Although Utah coach Kyle Whittingham was pleased with his team's effort, he wasn't pleased with the result. "Obviously we came up short. The guys played hard again and this team has no shortage of effort or toughness. We've got a bunch of tough guys that fight for the full 60 minutes. However, we have to play smarter at times and have to be more productive," Whittingham said.
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The Utes missed several opportunities throughout the day, failing on fourth down twice inside UCLA territory, throwing an interception on the first drive of the game, and allowing the Bruins to convert 10 out of 17 third downs, many of which were longer than seven yards.
Most of UCLA's ten third down conversions came as a result of quarterback Brett Hundley's scrambling ability. Hundley routinely made athletic runs while eluding Ute tacklers on third down.
"He's elusive, but we made him appear more elusive than he really is because we were not disciplined in our pass rush lanes. We have to maintain leverage and maintain spacing, and we didn't do that enough of the time. We have to be more disciplined in the pass rush. The pass rush was good as far as not letting him get comfortable back there, but we did a very poor job with his escaping out of the pocket," Whittingham said.
Cornerback Ryan Lacy echoed Whittingham's sentiment, expressing frustration that the defense was unable to stop Hundley when it counted. "He was getting away. There's really no explanation for it. We missed tackles, and he gets away. We were all in coverage and we felt like we had a lot of coverage sacks, but If we can't get to QB and cant tackle him he's gonna keep running," he said.
Despite starting their third quarterback in the last five games, the Utah offense struggled to move the football, generating only one offensive touchdown on the second to last possession of the day. Senior running back John White, who finished the game with only 11 carries and 44 rushing yards, diagnosed the cause of Utah's offensive struggles. "Execution. We have to do everything right. When everyone's doing that, we have success," he said.
With the loss, the Utah defense now has to prepare for an Oregon State team that is rolling. However, the team is trying to stay positive.
"We're definitely frustrated. We don't like losing at all. We don't want to get used to it. We've been trying to work on it, and of course losing is frustrating but we just need to come together as a team and see what we can do to turn this season around," Lacy said. "We played our heart out honestly. We've just got to win."