As a former defensive coordinator, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows a good defense when he sees one, and what he sees in the Bruins has his attention.
The No. 12 Bruins are best known for their offense, which is third nationally averaging 52.7 points a game and second in total offense averaging 614.3 yards a game.
However, the defense is solid too — ranked No. 30 and giving up just 18 points a game.
“They mix in some odd fronts and bring pressure,” Whittingham said. “They are just sound and play hard.”
Whittingham credited UCLA coach Jim Mora, who spent much of his years as an assistant in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball, for giving his defense its demeanor.
He remembered how shortly after Mora was hired in 2011 he stopped the Bruins’ long-time tradition of ditching a practice by jumping over the wall that surrounds the practice facility, saying it should be an honor to play for the Bruins.
“He said enough of that nonsense,” Whittingham said. “He is just a straight-line, hard-nosed, no nonsense coach and his personality and temperament has been embraced by the team.”
Time to shine
Utah offensive lineman Junior Salt said he and his teammates have heard all the great things about UCLA’s offense and are using Thursday’s game as a challenge to match the Bruins’ offensive efforts.
“They are all great athletes,” he said. “They can move, they are athletic and mobile and it’s the same as our guys. It’s going to be a great opportunity to showcase what we have.”
UCLA has given up five sacks in three games while the Utes have given up four in four games.
Utah running back James Poole has decided to go by his nickname, “Bubba,” from now on in any school releases or writeups. The sophomore, who is averaging 76 yards a game, said he decided to make the change because everyone was calling him by his nickname anyway.
“It’s been my nickname since I was born so it’s really no difference to me,” he said.
Big name, big plays
Mora said during Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference call one of the biggest differences he has noticed in Utah’s offense this year is the improvement in quarterback Travis Wilson, as well as Utah’s big play ability.
Mora compared Wilson to former ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler.
“He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, he stands tall in the pocket and throws it down the field but he also has a lot of mobility. He can scramble and get himself out of trouble and run the ball a bit.”
As for Erickson, Mora said he could see Erickson’s influence in Utah’s schemes.
“He has a great football mind and can exploit weaknesses in teams and we are seeing big plays coming out of that offense with a quarterback that is efficient,” Mora said. “His handprints are all over that.”