Utah got its only points of the first three quarters when Ryan Lacy recovered a muffed punt return by UCLA's Steven Manfro in the end zone late in the first quarter.
"I don't think it feels any better, (but) we're more competitive, I can tell you that," Whittingham said. "We're a better football team than we were last year. I can say that without hesitation. Our record doesn't say that, but I feel like we're better prepared to compete in this conference."
After an unimpressive effort by Utah's offense last week against Southern California, Whittingham shook up his lineup by giving the start to Wilson, a product of Orange County's San Clemente High School who had played in every game this season as a backup. Hays had started the Utes' past three games since they lost Jordan Wynn to a career-ending shoulder injury.
"Overall, I think we did all right," said Wilson, who had known he would start since midweek. "But there's a lot of things we need to do better. We've still got a lot of areas to improve, and they're a tough defense."
But Andrew Abbott intercepted a tipped pass by Wilson on the freshman's opening drive, and UCLA mounted a 13-play scoring march capped by Hundley's expert ball fake on a 12-yard TD run up the middle.
After UCLA opened the second half by stopping Utah on fourth down at the Bruins 34, Hundley calmly engineered a 14-play scoring drive capped by Franklin's 3-yard TD run.
Utah finally got moving in the waning minutes, reaching the UCLA 3 with a trick play featuring receiver DeVonte Christopher throwing a 23-yard pass to Wilson.
Wilson then rushed inside the UCLA 1 on third down, but his helmet came off on the play, forcing Hays to take his first snap. The senior calmly hit Anderson, who stretched over the goal line for Utah's first offensive TD.