UCLA knows it needs to play better than it did in its first two games of the season to make a run in the Pac-10. A meeting with a Utah team they have dominated in the past may help the Bruins find the form they're looking for.
The 11th-ranked Bruins try to improve to 9-0 all-time against the Utes when they visit Utah for the first time since 1974 on Saturday.
UCLA (2-0) won its season opener 45-17 at Stanford on Sept. 1 behind strong performances from Ben Olson (286 yards passing, five touchdowns), Kahlil Bell (195 rushing yards) and Brandon Breazell (111 receiving yards, one TD). The Bruins, though, allowed the Cardinal to amass close to 400 yards of total offense.
Their defensive struggles continued at home last week against Brigham Young. UCLA jumped out to a 20-0 lead in the second quarter, but allowed the Cougars to score 17 unanswered points before holding on for a 27-17 victory to end BYU's 11-game win streak.
"Defensively, we've had some struggles," UCLA coach Karl Dorrell said. "People are throwing the ball a lot more than they have in the past. When your last two opponents have thrown the ball (more than 50 times apiece), that's a telltale sign that teams are going to think the only way you can have success is throwing the ball.
"There's a lot of things we can improve with our coverage with our secondary and our linebackers. Our offense and our defense has to evolve to understand that people are going to pick on areas that they perceive to be weaknesses."
On offense, Olson's production dropped to 126 yards passing with no touchdowns and an interception against BYU, while Bell had 84 yards on the ground with one TD and Breazell caught just four passes for 35 yards.
"We're not where we need to be," Bell said. "I think we came out against Stanford and did a good job, but against BYU we kind of took a step back. But that's the great thing - we can go back, watch film, fix it and move on to the next game."
That next game is against Utah, which has dropped its first two games of the season and has never defeated UCLA in eight meetings. The Bruins beat the Utes 31-10 in the 2006 season opener at the Rose Bowl, as Olson passed for 318 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start.
Utah (0-2) has scored just 19 points in its first two contests this season while allowing 44. The Utes gave up 390 yards in a 20-12 loss at home to Air Force last Saturday.
"It was disappointing that it was a (Mountain West) conference loss because that puts us in the hole from the get-go," Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We didn't have enough offensive production. When you score 12 points, that isn't enough to win a modern, Division I college football game."
Senior Tommy Grady made his first collegiate start at quarterback in place of Brian Johnson, who injured his shoulder in the opener and isn't expected back until next week at UNLV. Grady completed 20 of 39 passes for 240 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
"The guys on the team are looking around and saying, "What's going on, here?" This is not what any of us expected, and this wasn't the situation we expected to be in," Whittingham said.
Now, Utah will need to put up more points behind Grady with UCLA coming into Rice-Eccles Stadium.
"I've only spent time watching UCLA's offense," Whittingham said. "They have a great running back and a couple of great receivers. They have Ben Olson at quarterback, and we remember him from last year. UCLA also returns most of their offensive line. They're a good team, and they are well-deserving of their national ranking."