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Four-Down Territory: UCLA Fends Off Utah

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UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley eludes two Utah defenders in the Bruins' 34-27 win over the Utes on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley eludes two Utah defenders in the Bruins' 34-27 win over the Utes on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images.

A breakdown of UCLA’s 34-27 victory of Utah:

First Down

Brett Hundley likely excelled at the Punt, Pass and Kick competition as a kid. He certainly is adept at it as a college athlete. The UCLA quarterback threw, ran and caught a touchdown Thursday night against Utah and even punted once — a 27-yard boot that pinned the Utes inside their own 20-yard line.

The sophomore finished with a ho-hum passing stat line: 17-of-27 for 211 yards and a touchdown and interception apiece. Although he struggled against the Utah pass rush— which sacked him three times — his intangibles and athleticism were very much part of the difference between a 34-27 UCLA win and an upset Bruins loss. He rushed for 85 yards, and none bigger than the 36-yard scoring scamper with 3:33 to go in the fourth to put UCLA up for good.

How important is Hundley to the Bruins’ offense? For the two plays while the sophomore was on the sidelines with an apparent eye injury, back-up quarterback Jerry Neuheisel followed up a delay-of-game penalty with a 26-yard loss on a botched snap.

For Hundley’s efforts, the No. 12 Bruins are 4-0 (1-0 Pac-12) for the first time since 2005.

But Hundley’s efforts — including the seven-yard touchdown catch from sophomore wide receiver Devin Fuller — were almost for naught.

Meet Utah quarterback Travis Wilson. It’s not often a quarterback throws six interceptions and still gets praise. It’s equal-parts rare that a quarterback can toss six passes to the opposing team and still have a shot to win the game.

Wilson is remarkably consistent, having thrown for 264, 279, 273 and 288 yards in his last four games, respectively.

His 288 yards and two touchdowns versus the Bruins give him 1,406 yard and 11 scoring tosses for the season.

Wilson was poised and in control on the Utes’ final drive and marched them to within striking distance. Unfortunately, his worst pass of the night — probably one of his only truly bad throws on the evening — went to UCLA’s Myles Jack at the Bruins’ 12-yard line to ice the win.

Wilson is going to put it all together at some point this season and an opponent is going to pay the price.

Second Down

Utah is tough — arguably one of the toughest 3-2 (0-2 Pac-12) teams in the country. And opponents are finding that out the hard way.

A bounce here or a conversion there and it’s highly plausible that the Utes could be sitting at 5-0 and, more importantly, 2-0 in the conference. Every Utah game this season has been decided by seven points or less, with the exception of the Utes’ 70-7 drubbing of Weber State.

Oregon State needed overtime to down Utah, 51-48. The Utes certainly gave UCLA a scare. Had Sean Fitzgerald not missed a game-tying touchdown by less than the width of a pylon with 26 seconds left to play, the Utes would have pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the season.

Utah has nine days to game plan for the arrival of Stanford. The Cardinal would be remiss to take the Utes lightly — especially if the weather turns wet, cold and sour like it did against the Bruins.

Third Down

It can be argued that Utah played well or that UCLA had an off night. What can’t be denied is the performance of the Bruins defense. UCLA picked off Wilson six times, including two by Anthony Jefferson. All told, UCLA earned back 77 yards on the ground off interceptions and garnered 14 points off of turnovers.

Antony Barr gets a lot of credit for the Bruins' bearish defense and rightfully so. The senior had five tackles, two of them sacks and another for a loss of yards. Not to be overshadowed, however, Eric Kendricks led the team in tackles (13) and had an interception.

The Bruins gave up 33 more yards than their season average of 354.8 yards per game, but their greatest accomplishment came on third-down conversions, where they held the Utes to a mere two successful attempts on 13 tries.

Flag On The Play: Repeat Third Down.

It’s not often you get to knock a center. But UCLA’s Jake Brendel had a game to forget. Brendel was low with his snaps all night, perhaps a product of the lousy weather, perhaps a sign of inexperience for the redshirt sophomore. His redemption came late in the fourth quarter where he threw a block to free up Hundley for the 36-yard, go-ahead-for-good scoring run.

The Utes were able to expose one of the glaring weaknesses of the Bruins: the offensive line. Utah sacked Hundley three times and was constantly in his face. When pressured, Hundley became erratic at times. He threw a pick-six to tie the game at 24 to start the fourth quarter and was whistled for a costly intentional-grounding call that took the Bruins out of the red zone with about six minutes left to play in the still-tied game.

The news only got worse for the UCLA front line. The Bruins lost starting OT Torain White indefinitely with a broken ankle.

Running back Jordon James, team’s leading rusher, also sustained an ankle injury. His status remains unknown. With James potentially out, that leaves Hundley as the team’s leading rusher.

Wide receiver Shaquelle Evans also left the field with an apparent knee injury, but eventually returned in unspectacular fashion.

Fourth Down

There’s no more exciting play in football than the onside kick. And the Utes are experts at it.

Coming off a 37-yard Andy Phillips field goal with 2:04 to play and the Utes down seven points, the redshirt freshman lined up to set off the desperate, mad scramble that is the onside kick. With the weather not cooperating, the official ordered the Utes to assign a player to hold the ball on the tee for the kick. That player was receiver Sean Fitzgerald. The Utes, as well as the 45,272 fired-up, soggy fans in Rice-Eccles Stadium protested loudly. The ref relented and the ball remained upright.

The ball randomly bounded into the arms of the aforementioned Shaquelle Evans. It didn’t stay in Evans’ hands long and was eventually pounced on by, you guessed it, Sean Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald finished with 53 yards receiving and a touchdown and nearly missed a score that would have tied the game on the Utes’ penultimate play.

Wilson threw the fatal pick on the following play, but at least one message was sent: Beware when the Utah lines up for an on-side kick.

Utah pulled off a successful onside kick in the season opener against Utah State, as well. That kick took the Aggies by surprise and the Utes eventually went on to outlast their cross-state rivals.