SALT LAKE CITY — What once seemed like a historic run for Utah, with six consecutive victories to start the season and a No. 3 ranking, has become a year of missed opportunity.
The 18th-ranked Utes are no longer in contention for the Pac-12 South, let alone a conference title, after losing 17-9 to UCLA on Saturday.
Players walked silently into the locker room at Rice-Eccles Stadium as the Bruins could be heard celebrating nearby. 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.
There's nothing left on the line for Utah except for which bowl invitation it receives. It was just a month ago that Utah had aspirations of making the College Football Playoff. Then it lost to USC.
The Pac-12 title hopes were alive even after a double-overtime loss to Arizona last week. But three losses in the last five games sealed the Utes' fate.
"It hurts," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "They're competitive guys. If you've got guys that when they lose it doesn't hurt, you've got the wrong guys. They're hurt. They're disappointed. When you put everything you've got into something and you lose, it hurts. We still have a chance to win 10 games this year. It's been a very positive year. It's a shame."
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 missed the game after having knee surgery Thursday. The senior suffered a torn meniscus and bone bruise in his left knee last week against Arizona. Whittingham announced after the game that Booker has played his last game as a Ute because of the injury.
Booker was the centerpiece of Utah's offense. Before being lost for the season, he ranked No. 3 in the Pac-12 in rushing yards and No. 2 in rushing touchdowns. Booker is third in school history with 2,773 yards rushing.
"Booker's a great running back . but my motivation was that people were doubting me, thinking the running game wouldn't be the same," Williams said.
Josh Rosen, UCLA's freshman star, threw for 220 yards, 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.
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."
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.
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.
"You're not going to win many games in the Pac-12 with nine points," Whittingham said. "It's just not going to happen."