UCLA Bruins (7-3 SU, 4-5 ATS) vs. Utah Utes (8-2 SU, 5-5 ATS)
College Football Week 12
Date/Time: Saturday, November 21, 2015 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Rice Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UCLA +2.5/UTAH -2.5
Over/Under Total: 58.5
The UCLA Bruins come to Rice Eccles Stadium on Saturday to face the Utah Utes in key Pac-12 Conference action. The Utes, who once held a stranglehold on the South division, suddenly find themselves in a position where their standing is not so solid. They need to win to make sure they end up in the Pac-12 title game, with UCLA and then Colorado remaining on the regular season schedule. UCLA is 7-3 on the season, still hanging in there with any number of different possibilities being plausible.
Neither team has a successful time of it in their last game, with both taking losses. Its a bad time in the season to start tailing off, as each team will be looking to get back on the winning track this week. The Bruins absorbed a tough home loss, 31-27, to Washington State. It snapped a 3-game win streak and left the Bruins at 4-3 in conference play. It was a costly defeat, as it likely cost them a chance to win the division. But Utah also came up short, losing on the road to Arizona, 37-30. Utah was once ranked very high, the third-ranked team in the country and unbeaten before losing 42-24 at USC. They rebounded with wins over Oregon State and Washington, but they find themselves really needing this win on Saturday at home.
Utah has certainly come down to earth, but its debatable how much flack they should catch for it. Sure, at one time not long ago this season, they were in a position to make a run at the College Football Playoff. But for a team relatively new to the Pac-12, there is still a lot to take away from this season, especially if they manage to finish strongly starting with a win this week. So they lost a few games. Theyre not among the absolute top teams in the nation. Theyre still a heck of a team and should be looking to right the ship this week in Salt Lake City.
Another thing to keep in mind this season is that this years Pac-12 is truly formless and impossible to get a read on. No team in the conference has been above getting victimized by a team that no one gave a chance to win. Virtually every team is dangerous enough to beat any team on a given week. And for a team navigating its way through this conference game after game, bad things are going to happen. You really cant call out teams for losing in this format. Utah just fell victim to a pair of dangerous teams, but theyve beaten some too, including a 42-point road win over a now-streaking Oregon and conclusive wins over a slew of dangerous conference opponents. And the same applies to UCLA. Just because theyve come up short on occasion in conference matchups doesnt mean theyre not a good team.
Big Travis Wilson leads the Utah offense and hes been up-and-down this season, with 4 TDs and 6 picks in his last 4 games. He can run the ball well, as he depends on Devontae Booker to do most of the heavy lifting in this offense. Booker is a workhorse who can take a lot of abuse. He has 295 yards rushing in the last two games and should be able to produce heavily this week against a Bruins defense that tends to be leaky against the opposing ground game. He has 11 TD runs, while adding 37 receptions. Wilson has added 6 TD runs, as he works well with receivers Britain Covey and Kenneth Scott. This offense is far from electric, but they do average a respectable 33.4 points per game.
Over the course of the last month or so, weve seen some regression in the Utah defense, though thats the nature of doing business in an offense-heavy conference. We are seeing some of these point totals go up, however. Earlier in the season, we saw Utah giving up point totals in the teens and low-20s. In their last 4 games, they have allowed 114 points, while giving up a lot of offense to Oregon and Washington State. Well see how that resonates as they face another potentially-prolific offense in UCLA this week.
The UCLA offense averages over 35 points per game with freshman QB Josh Rosen at the helm. Despite some uneven moments to his campaign, he has given this offense a boost, with nearly 3000 yards passing. He has 18 TD throws and 7 picks. Rosen relies on a robust run game that has accounted for nearly 2000 yards and 22 rushing scores, led by Paul Perkins, one of the top backs in the conference. Rosen also connects consistently with a good 1-2 receiver punch in Jordan Payton and Thomas Duarte, a pair of ball-catchers who could present major matchup problems with the Utah secondary this week.
While the UCLA offense may have a slightly more impactful explosive element to it, their defense is not quite as bankable. They gave up 31 points to both Washington State and Colorado, while allowing 56 to Stanford and 38 to Arizona State. We see that against some of the better teams in the conference, the defense can be exploited, but again, this is the Pac-12 and there are really no teams that have gone long without an opponent hitting the scoreboard with some regularity.
This is a tough one. There is a lot to consider and so much conflicting data that one gets the feeling this one could go any number of different directions. UCLA cannot be taken lightly and if Utah doesnt hit the ground running, they could be in trouble against a Bruins bunch that can put up points quickly. But I see the Utes putting all their pain and experience into this game and producing a most-urgent performance. They are less mistake-prone and that could make all the difference in a game like this. Im going with the home team.
Scott’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Im betting on the Utah Utes minus 2.5 points.
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