Utah backup quarterback catches UCLA off guard, leads Utes to victory

PASADENA — Backup quarterbacks generally aren’t popular guys. Their entrances onto the football field typically indicate either controversy or injury at the game’s most important position.

Simply put, most teams would like to keep their backup signal caller on the sideline – the UCLA defense would like it that way too.

Through five games, the Bruins have faced four backup quarterbacks – two due to injury and two due to a player switch during the game. Up until Saturday night, UCLA had emerged damaged, but unscathed.

Utah’s Kendal Thompson changed that.

A week after Arizona State backup Mike Bercovici torched No. 8 UCLA (4-1, 1-1) through the air, Thompson – alongside running back Devontae Booker – ran over, through and around a Bruins’ defense that struggled to slow down a sustained and effective Utes ground attack. By game’s end, Utah (4-1,1-1) had 242 yards on the ground and one upset victory as they knocked off UCLA 30-28.

“It wasn’t something they had shown a lot of. We had a feeling that they were going to play (Thompson) some; we didn’t know they were going to play him that much,” said coach Jim Mora. “This guy is a better runner, more agile, faster, nifty … doesn’t throw the ball quite as well (as Utah starting quarterback Travis Wilson).”

Turns out he didn’t need to.

Thompson supplied 83 yards on the ground as the Utes switched to a zone-read offense with the Oklahoma transfer at quarterback. UCLA struggled to contain Thompson and Booker all night, particularly on the edge. The pair combined for 63 yards on nine carries on the Utes’ final drive that produced what would turn out to be a game-winning 29-yard field goal from Andy Phillips.

“They worked for every inch of blade that they got. That was the main issue for us – trying to contain that,” said redshirt senior defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. “The quarterback just kept on running. He wasn’t afraid of hits and we hit him pretty good.”

Odighizuwa said that while the Bruins expected to see Thompson in the game, the team mostly game-planned for Wilson, who had started each of the Utes’ first four games. Still, the Bruins said that while it was difficult to adjust to the change at quarterback, they didn’t see anything they didn’t expect, saying that their struggles mainly came down to a failure to execute.

Thompson attempted just 13 passes and rarely challenged UCLA vertically, though he did connect with wide receiver Dres Anderson on a 42-yard touchdown early in the second quarter that put the Utah ahead 14-0.

Instead, he exploited the Bruins inability to contain the edge. Thompson regularly scrambled for chunks of yards on the perimeter, while Booker abused the UCLA defense up the middle as the Bruins once again struggled to bring down ball-carriers in what has developed into a season-long issue. It’s one of many UCLA has after one of its most disappointing losses in recent memory.

“We hang our hat on stopping the run and being a tough physical defense and we fell short tonight,” said defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. “We’ve got to become the defense that we’re capable of becoming, and that’s not the way you finish a game if you’re gonna be great.”

The Bruins are now left to wonder if its title hopes are finished. With No. 2 Oregon coming to town fresh off an upset loss of its own, UCLA will have little time to find the greatness requisite to bring down one of college football’s premier teams.

Still, if it learns nothing else from tonight, UCLA can take comfort in the fact that greatness is not only fleeting but unexpected.

Read more here: http://dailybruin.com/2014/10/05/utah-backup-quarterback-catches-ucla-off-guard-leaves-utes-to-victory/
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