UCLA beats No. 18 Utah 17-9, 1 win from Pac-12 title game
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) As if facing USC next week wasn't already big enough, UCLA is now officially one victory from playing in its first Pac-12 championship game since 2012 after beating No. 18 Utah 17-9 on Saturday.
The Bruins (8-3, 5-3) and crosstown rival USC (7-4, 5-3) will play in a winner-take-all game with the Pac-12 South and the right to play for a conference championship on the line. UCLA hasn't won a conference title since 1998.
Josh Rosen threw for 220 yards and a touchdown as UCLA ended the Utes' Pac-12 title hopes.
''I hope we don't get ranked after this game because for some reason we don't like playing ahead,'' Rosen said. ''We like when people doubt us. We just have that kind of fighter mentality we got a lot of dogs on our team. All we want to do is fight.''
The Bruins seemed all but out of the Pac-12 race after back-to-back conference losses in early October. The Bruins could have been officially eliminated after a loss to Washington State two weeks ago, but losses around the conference kept coach Jim Mora's team alive.
''That is what we expect,'' Mora said. ''That is the kind of kids we have. They're from diverse backgrounds. A lot of these young men could have given up in life a long time ago. But, that's not their character.
''I don't mean to sound overly dramatic, but it's true. This is a competitive sport. You're going to suffer some tough losses and there's going to be adversity. You have to be prepared for it. You have to build a plan in your culture to deal with adversity.''
The Bruins scored touchdowns on two long drives to start the first and third quarters and that was enough against the short-handed Utes (8-3, 5-3). Star running back Devontae Booker is out for the remainder of the season after having knee surgery Thursday. The senior suffered a torn meniscus and bone bruise in his left knee last week against Arizona.
Rosen, UCLA's freshman star, completed 15 of 30 passes and had a 122.6 quarterback rating. He's now thrown a school-record 218 consecutive passes without an interception.
Paul Perkins added 98 rushing yards and a touchdown while Jordan Payton had a game-high 105 receiving yards for the Bruins. Payton now holds the school record with 194 career receptions.
Utah's Travis Wilson threw for 110 yards and rushed for 67 while Joe Williams, who took over for Booker, ran for 121 yards.
''You're not going to win many games in the Pac-12 with nine points,'' Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ''It's just not going to happen.''
''Unfortunately, with USC losing, the table was set for an opportunity, but we didn't take advantage of it. So that's where we're at,'' he said.
No. 22 USC lost 48-28 to No. 23 Oregon on Saturday.
UCLA scored its lone touchdown of the first half on the opening possession of the game. Rosen hit receiver Thomas Duarte for 33 yards on the first play and 28 yards for a touchdown five snaps later.
Ka'imi Fairbairn put the Bruins up 10-0 with a 33-yard field goal with 4:01 left in the quarter, a score set up by Randall Goforth's recovery of Williams' fumble that ended the Utes' first possession.
The Utes put together clock-eating drives in the second quarter, holding the ball for nine more minutes than UCLA. But Utah's four first-half drives produced just two 39-yard field goals by Andy Phillips. Phillips added a 21-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the Bruins' lead to 10-9.
But UCLA's Perkins scored on a two-yard run with 5:17 left in the third quarter to put Utah in a hole that it never recovered from.
''Don't let them score, that was the big thing,'' UCLA linebacker Deon Hollins said. ''We knew coming into the week that Utah is a great defense, so don't let them score, hold them to field goals. We felt that if we hold them to field goals we would score eventually. We did that in the second half.''