Utah football: Utes fall to Bruins 21-14 in Wilson's starting debut
Pasadena, Calif. • The Utah Utes put it all on the table against UCLA Saturday by starting a freshman quarterback, taking some big shots downfield and going for it on fourth downs.
But even all-out, high-risk attitude couldn't change the result for the Utes, who lost their third game in a row, falling 21-14 to the Bruins (5-2, 2-2) in the Rose Bowl in front of 66,303.
Utah freshman quarterback Travis Wilson made his starting debut for the Utes (2-4, 0-3), becoming just the fourth quarterback to do so since the NCAA restored freshman eligibility in 1972.
His debut was mixed. While he did nothing to lose the game directly for the Utes, Utah's offensive showing was similar to past weeks as it failed to get points on the board.
The only successful effort came late in the game when the Utes resorted to some trickery, with receiver DeVonte Christopher throwing a 23-yard pass to Wilson. UCLA was flagged for a roughing the passer penalty, giving the Utes the ball at UCLA's 2-yard line.
The Utes scored on a fourth-down pass play between receiver Dres Anderson and Jon Hays, who replaced Wilson after the freshman's helmet came off during a third-down rushing play, which forced him to leave the game for a play.
The touchdown pass was Hays' only appearance.
Starting in such a famed arena as the Rose Bowl not far from his home in San Clemente was a memorable moment that nevertheless was overshadowed by the loss for Wilson, who finished 23-of-33 for 220 yards.
"I felt fine in the pocket and felt good, I just need to work harder," he said.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the decision to go with Wilson was made after Wilson outplayed Hays during the week.
He'll wait to decide who starts at Oregon State after reviewing the film.
"Travis did some good things, although the production is not where it needs to be," he said. "He grew and showed some progress. He is a confident kid. There was no 'deer in the headlights' look with him."
The real downfall of Utah's offense was the run game, with John White rushing just 11 times for 44 yards.
Overall, the Utes had just 75 yards of rushing on 27 carries and just 5 yards in the second half.
"If you have to pinpoint one issue, it's our lack of production on offense," Whittingham said. "We have to find a way to get that solved. That is where we are at."
Defensively, the Utes once again succumbed to giving up big plays such as the 64-yard pass play between quarterback Brett Hundley and receiver Shaquelle Evans in the first quarter.
The game's back-breaking drive for the Utes came in the third quarter, when Utah failed to convert on fourth-and-two when Wilson was stopped short at UCLA's 34-yard line.
The Bruins responded with a 14-play, 66-yard drive that took 5:47 off the clock and ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin.
Hundley was 15-for-21 for 183 yards while Franklin, the Pac-12's leading rusher, had 22 carries for 79 yards.
Whittingham said Utah's defensive breakdowns were the result of players not being disciplined enough in the passing lanes, a problem that is becoming a common refrain this season.
"We have to get more disciplined," he said. "The pass rush was good, but we did a poor job with the passing lanes."
The Utes made it 21-14 with Hays' touchdown pass with 3:12 remaining, but UCLA was able to get a first down on its next drive and then left the Utes with just one second with which to work.
A desperation play went the way of the rest of Utah's offense Saturday, ending far short of success.
Utah freshmen as starting QBs
Ken Vierra, 1981 • W, Northwestern, 42-0
Scott Cate, 1982 • L, San Diego State, 21-17
Jordan Wynn, 2009 • W, New Mexico, 45-14
Travis Wilson, 2012 • L, UCLA, 21-14
R In short • UCLA spoiled freshman quarterback Travis Wilson's debut by beating the Utes 21-14 in the Rose Bowl.
Stat of the game • Utah had just 75 yards rushing against the Bruins, who were giving up 159.7 yards a game on the ground. Utah had just 5 yards rushing in the second half.