September 15, 2007

UCLA set to battle Utah

When the Bruins take on the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City later today it will be a battle of the walking wounded as both teams are dealing with a bout of the injury bug. Utah will be without five players who were expected to be starters and UCLA will be without two starters for the game.

One of the injured Utes will be their starting quarterback Brian Johnson who was the preseason All-Mountain West pick.

Johnson will be replaced by former Huntington Beach (Calif.) Edison star Tommy Grady who signed with Oklahoma out of school and could be starting there if he hadn't transferred to Utah when he lost the starting job to the ousted Rhett Bomar, now with Sam Houston State.

Grady, who stands 6-foot-7, has a very catchable ball and could be dangerous now that he is getting some reps. The UCLA game will be his second start this season.

In his first start, Grady completed 20 out of 39 for a career best 240 yards and one touchdown. What really stands out is that going into the fourth quarter Grady was nine for 24 and then really caught fire hitting on 11-15 passes for 144 yards in the last stanza.

Not bad when you consider that Grady's task was made much harder because two other playmakers on offense are out for the season. They are 2006 second-team All-Mountain West wide receiver Brent Casteel who suffered a knee injury against Air Force last week and their talented running back Matt Asiata who broke his leg in the opener against Oregon State.

True frosh Jereme Brooks has entered Utah's receiver rotation when Casteel was hurt, joining Marquis Wilson, Derrek Richards, Brandon Godfrey and Brian Hernandez.

Godfrey leads the Utes with 10 catches and his 108 receiving yards is second best on the team.

Richards had an outstanding game against Air Force catching eight passes for a career high 109 yards. He is also a scoring threat as he has 11 career touchdowns.

Replacing Asiata has proven more difficult as Utah currently has a three-man rotation in juniors Ray Stowers, Darrell Mack and senior Darryl Poston who originally signed with USC in 2001. Poston is a rare seven year senior.

Adding to Utah's injury woes they lost the services of highly touted defensive tackle Gabe Long to go with preseason All-Mountain West offensive lineman Jason Boone whose season came to an end during training camp.

With Long out true freshman, Paul Kruger is scheduled to get his first start. The talent Kruger is second among Utah's defensive linemen in tackles with 7.5 stops to his credit.

The Bruins aren't without their injury problems as starting defensive tackle Brigham Harwell will be out for at least four weeks and starting defensive end Nikola Dragovic will miss Utah.

In Harwell's place will be sophomore defensive tackle Jess Ward and junior Tom Blake will replace Dragovic.

This is a game where some of UCLA's younger players could get some valuable experience under fire.

Don't be surprised if Utah tries to pass on the Bruins so far this season that is the only way Stanford or BYU was able to move the ball. The Utes may however try to test the run stopping skills of Ward and Blake.

UCLA's offense needs to come out fast for a confidence builder and play with the same intensity they had against Stanford. The receivers have to help Ben Olson they have to catch the ball.

Something to keep an eye on is the higher altitude makes it harder for you to catch your breath after a play. It will be interesting to see how UCLA handles that situation. This could lead to a higher substitution ratio than usual.

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