Utah football: Utes, Bruins on similar paths
The UCLA Bruins might have a better record and more at stake than the Utes heading into Saturday's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but records and conference standings mean little to Utah's players right now.
Now that they have this winning thing down, they don't want to give it up. Sometimes, being greedy is a good thing.
"They have their own goals, and we know they are thinking about the title hunt," Utah cornerback Conroy Black said of the Bruins (5-4, 4-2). "We know they are going to come in thinking they are the better team because they have a better record, but we are going to do our own work this week to show them we are the better team at the end of the day."
The teams have made similar climbs out of the bottom of the Pac-12 South. UCLA is coming off its best win of the year, a 29-28 shocker over then-No. 19 Arizona State. The Bruins have a strong ground game and an improving quarterback in Kevin Prince, who was 11-for-17 for 196 yards Saturday.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham credited Prince with much of the turnaround.
"He is playing well," he said. "We talked about confidence, and it's no more apparent than with him and the way he is managing the offense."
The Utes (5-4, 2-4) also have adopted a run-first mentality ever since Jordan Wynn was lost for the year. Running back John White joined elite company Saturday when he rushed for 109 yards to give him 1,024 rushing yards for the season.
But it was the way that quarterback Jon Hays was able to connect with DeVonte Christopher and Reggie Dunn for touchdown passes of 65 and 44 yards in Saturday's 34-21 win at Arizona that have the Utes feeling better about their offense.
"Those were two huge plays," Whittingham said. "Jon is doing a nice job of decision making. There were times when he pulled the ball down and ran. A few weeks ago he would have forced the ball into coverage, so we can see him progressing."
While Hays' improved play has played a huge factor in the Utes' recent wins, so too has a change in attitude since their 34-10 loss to Cal.
The team meeting that followed focused on Utah's lack of urgency in that game.
"We said, 'OK, this is something we can fix,' " Whittingham said of the mentality. "We made a commitment to play with a great deal of passion and energy. Last week was Part 2, this week is Part 3. That is the mantra, playing with passion and energy."
Now that they have it, the Utes don't want to let it go. The same could be said of their winning streak.
"We want eight wins, not six wins just to be bowl eligible," Black said. "That is our goal."
UCLA, Utah by the numbers
Both teams are run-oriented teams. Here is how their offenses compare:
Category Avg. Pac-12 NCAA
Rushing offense 190.89 3 32
Passing offense 196.22 11 86
Pass efficiency offense 136.28 8 53
Total offense 387.11 9 65
Scoring offense 25.22 9 81
Category Avg. Pac-12 NCAA
Rushing offense 127.44 8 89
Passing offense 181.67 12 96
Pass efficiency offense 122.52 10 85
Total offense 309.11 12 111
Scoring offense 24.44 10 84