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Wednesday, September 27, 2023

No. 22 UCLA braces for ‘difficult venue’ at No. 11 Utah – Daily News

UCLA offensive lineman Duke Clemens spoke this week of preparing for nameless, faceless opponents because of the confidence he has in the Bruins’ offense this season.

Although the No. 22 Bruins see this week’s opponent – No. 11 Utah – as anonymous, the Utes will have a loud voice in the form of its home crowd.

“That place, they just have a lot of energy,” Clemens said. “They have a great fan base over there at Utah. They take a lot of pride in their football. You can always expect a loud crowd when you play at Rice-Eccles.”

Utah, the reigning Pac-12 champion, has won 26 of its last 27 games at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes’ home record is 113-36 dating to 1998. The last time UCLA won in Salt Lake City was 2015.

“Rice-Eccles is a difficult venue,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said. “I think it’s a combination of the crowd, the talent on the roster and the coaching staff.”

The Bruins’ Kain Medrano has seen Rice-Eccles at its fiercest and played at plenty of other hostile locations, which has helped in mental preparation. The senior linebacker cited UCLA’s 2019 comeback win over Washington State as one of the toughest road environments.

“It was a lot of cussing out whoever was calling out the plays, whether offense or defense,” he recalled. “And it was all their fans. It was a lot of … cussing out Dorian (Thompson-Robinson).

“That’s just how it is when you go to a road game in that environment. It’s a bunch of hate and we’ve just got to keep not paying attention to it and keep moving and keep playing football.”

Thompson-Robinson finished with 507 passing yards and five touchdowns, overcoming a 32-point second-half deficit for a stirring 67-63 victory in Pullman.

Crowd noise is also pumped into the Bruins’ practices at Spaulding Field in preparation for loud road games, which was the protocol for this week. When there’s not crowd noise, there’s blaring music filling the practice facility.

“It’s just noise,” Bruins senior defensive lineman Gary Smith III said. “It doesn’t really make too much of a difference to me. I’ve gotta pay attention to the ball anyway. So crowd noise and all that going on doesn’t really do nothing for all of us.”

The Bruins have opened up Pac-12 play on the road for the last seven seasons and have won their last two conference openers against Colorado and Stanford. Utah will be a challenge, with momentum from a 3-0 record and the possibility of Cam Rising returning at quarterback.

But to UCLA, it’s all nameless and faceless.

“We’ve just gotta bring our own energy from the jump,” Medrano said. “We’ve gotta start fast and I think that’ll do that for us. We can bring our own energy on the sideline. Our fan base travels well, so it’s going to be fun going out there competing, especially in that environment.”

Kaho update

Linebacker Ale Kaho has yet to play in a game this season and has been spotted outside Wasserman Center wearing a boot. Chip Kelly said Monday that Ale is unavailable and it’s unclear if he will be back this season, but Medrano offered some additional insight after practice Tuesday.

“It’s been tough, but his head is in the right space right now,” Medrano said. “I talk to him every day. He’s one of my best friends on this team, so I’m in his ear all the time, just keep your head up. He’ll be back out here by the end of the season, I promise you that.”

Mokiao-Atimalala returns

Wide receiver Titus Mokiao-Atimalala was seen practicing Tuesday morning. The junior was in street clothes on the sidelines for Saturday’s victory against North Carolina Central, marking his third consecutive game missed.

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