UCLA rides six picks to tight win over Utah

John Coon, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange


SALT LAKE CITY -- A potent offense defines No. 12 UCLA more than anything else this season. Even so, the Bruins turned to their defense to get the job done Thursday against a Utah team determined to complete an improbable second-half rally.
UCLA intercepted Travis Wilson six times -- the final one coming when Myles Jack picked off the sophomore quarterback with 16 seconds left -- and the Bruins survived a sluggish second-half offensive effort to escape with a 34-27 victory.
Brett Hundley threw for 211 yards and a touchdown on 17-of-27 passing and rushed for 85 yards and a TD on 20 carries to lead the Bruins, who are 4-0 for the first time since 2005. The game was UCLA's Pac-12 opener.
Jack came to the rescue after Utah's Andy Phillips banked in a 37-yard field goal off the upright with 2:04 left and then executed an onside kick that the Utes recovered.
Wilson, who finished with 288 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-44 passing, drove the Utes down to the UCLA 23 in the final minute. Jack picked off a fourth-down pass at the 12, and the Bruins ran out the clock.
"We had to make some stops," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "We were struggling offensively there for a good bit of the second half. We were a little bit out of sorts compared to where we typically are. You know, I think that's a sign of a good football team. When one side struggles a little bit, the other side picks up for them."
Hundley seemingly sealed the victory when he ran 36 yards for a touchdown with 3:33 remaining, giving the Bruins a 34-24 lead. Anthony Jefferson set up the score a minute earlier when he picked off Wilson for a second time at the Utes 40-yard line.
Wilson threw three interceptions in the third quarter, all on tipped passes.
"We had way too many mental errors, but ultimately they were my fault," Wilson said. "Some were deflected. Some were off the receiver's hands. But it happens, so we just have to keep on playing."
The Utes (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) bounced back early in the fourth quarter. Keith McGill gave Utah a much needed momentum boost when he returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown, tying the score at 24-24.
"They mounted the pressure and got me from the back side," Hundley said. "I tried to throw it away, and it didn't go the way I wanted it to go."
UCLA moved back on top with a 47-yard Ka'imi Fairbairn field goal, and Hundley ripped off his lengthy run to push the Bruins' lead to 10 points.
Utah had one more rally left. Phillips hit his second field goal of the game, and Utes receiver Sean Fitzgerald recovered the onside kick with 1:59 left. However, one more turnover doomed the Utes to another tough home loss to a Pac-12 foe.
"We have to keep our heads up," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We can't feel sorry for ourselves. Just keep fighting. That's one thing this team does. They have a lot of toughness, resiliency, and they fight until the bitter end."
Both quarterbacks came out strong in the opening quarter.
Hundley completed his first seven passes and marched UCLA down the field on its opening drive. Jordan James capped off the 10-play, 68-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down, giving the Bruins a 7-0 lead.
Utah wasted no time finding an answer. Wilson connected with Dres Anderson on a short pass, and the junior receiver raced 54 yards for a touchdown. Utah took a 14-7 lead in the final minute of the first quarter when a potential interception went through Randall Goforth's hands and Fitzgerald hauled in the ball for a 6-yard touchdown catch.
Wilson threw for 104 yards on 7-of-9 passes in the first quarter. Hundley had 96 yards on 7-of-8 passing.
UCLA tied it at 14-14 on a trick play -- a 7-yard toss from Devin Fuller to Hundley. Then, a tipped pass from Wilson ended up in the hands of Goforth, setting up a 17-yard touchdown catch by Jordan Payton that put the Bruins on top 21-14.
Phillips kicked a 44-yard field goal late in the second quarter to cut UCLA's lead to 21-17 at halftime.
NOTES: UCLA earned its first win in Salt Lake City since 1974, when the Bruins beat Utah 27-14. The Bruins lost two meetings in Utah against the Utes in 2007 and 2011 by a combined score of 75-12 ... Utah and UCLA combined for 500 yards of total offense in the first half alone. The Bruins wound up with 404 total yards, and the Utes finished with 387. ... UCLA improved to 17-5 the past 22 times it won the turnover battle. The Utes made one interception and recovered one UCLA fumble.