You would think a football team with a quarterback throwing six interceptions would find itself on the wrong end of a lopsided score.
But Utah’s 34-27 loss to UCLA on Thursday night defied logic. The miracle is that the Utes actually had a chance to tie the game with their final possession. And that miracle was produced largely by a defense bailing them out of tight situations.
Simply put, Utah played its best game of the year on that side of the ball. Keith McGill’s interception returned for a touchdown gave the Utes life and a 24-24 tie. Jared Norris had 12 tackles and two sacks on Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley. Jacoby Hale had a sack. Utah’s defense limited UCLA’s outstanding receiver Shaquell Evans to a single catch and 11 yards.
“I thought they were dominant in the second half,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “UCLA is a good football team. They are every bit deserving of being the 12th-ranked team in the country. So to be able to come out and completely control the second half defensively was very positive. I thought it was good to see.”
When the Utes needed stops in the second half, they stepped up and delivered. When the offense sputtered and Travis Wilson was throwing picks, the defense made big plays.
Never was that more apparent than in the third quarter. Backed against a short field, it forced UCLA into three punts and 20 yards of total offense. Three of the Bruins’ drives started at or close to midfield. Two of the drives started because of Utah turnovers.
It was a defense that looked completely different than it did in the first half, and against Oregon State in the Pac-12 opener. A defense that previously had struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks harassed Hundley for most of the game. A defense that struggled in the secondary looked better on key plays.
Unfortunately for the Utes, the defense clearly tired down the stretch. That was evident when Hundley raced 36 yards up the middle on a quarterback draw and beat everyone to the end zone. The touchdown supplied the Bruins with a 34-24 advantage and forced Utah into miracle mode.
Impressively, the Utes almost sent this one to overtime. In the end, however, it goes down as yet another close Pac-12 defeat.
Utah defensive accomplishments
• Sacked UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley three times
• Forced Hundley into an interception that was returned for a touchdown
• Jared Norris had 12 tackles and two sacks