Previewing the Utah Utes: Part II - Defense and Special Teams

Utah's huge defensive line tends to swallow running backs whole. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As discussed in Part I of the Utah Ute preview, the switch to the Pac 12 has not been kind to Utah.  Whether it is the increased competition or growing pains from the switch to Norm Chow's offense and the QB injury bug, Utah finds itself at 5-4 and 2-4 in conference.  

The struggles have not been on the defensive side of the ball, however, and Utah may be playing their best defense at this point.  The Utes have tallied 16 sacks in their last 4 games, and are coming off a week which they held Arizona to 21 points- the Wildcats had 21 in the first quarter against UCLA. Utah is 25th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 20.8 ppg.  They are very good at rushing defense, allowing only 95.4 ypg, 10th in the nation, but they do give up 244.8 ypg through the air, which is 86th nationally.

Defensive Line

Utah's 4-3 starts with NT Star Lotulelei (Jr. 6'4, 325 lbs.).  The behemoth has registered 27 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss from a position that generally doesn't tally many tackles.  The JuCo transfer from Snow CC is quick off the ball for his size and requires a double team.  Tevita Finau (6'4 283 lbs.) has switched from DE and will back up Lotulelei.  Finau has registered 3 sacks this season in a pass rushing specialist role.

At the other DT position, one of the two Kruger's gets the start.  Elder Dave Kruger (6'5, 285 lbs.) is a run plugger.  He'll be backed up by another Snow CC transfer, James Aiono (Sr. 6'3, 305 lbs.).

At end, the other Kruger, Joe Kruger (6'7 270 lbs.) starts opposite Derrick Shelby (6'3 271 lbs.).  Shelby has 4 sacks this season coming off an injury that ended his 2009 season.  Both ends bring tremendous size to the line and allow the Utah linebackers to make a lot of tackles.  They'll be backed up by Nate Fakahafua (Fr. 6'3, 220 lbs.) and Nai Fotu (Sr. 6'0, 247 lbs.).

Linebackers

The sheer size of the defensive line allows the Utah linebackers to produce a lot of tackles.  Utah utilizes small, fast linebackers that can play both run defense and pass defense equally well.  While their stature may not be impressive, their production is off the charts.  MLB Chaz Walker (Sr. 6'0, 223 lbs.) leads the way with 76 tackles.  Boo Anderson (Jr. 6'1, 240 lbs.) will back up Walker and provides additional size.

SLB Brian Blechen (So. 6'2, 230 lbs.) played SS last year.  He was recruited at QB, but he has adapted very well with 51 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2 sacks.  He's backed up by Trevor Reilly (So. 6'5, 238 lbs.)

WLB/Rover Matt Martinez adds 53 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, and 2.5 sacks.  He's backed up by former starter J.J. Williams (Sr. 6'0, 220 lbs.), a very talented LB who could see plenty of action.

Secondary

Corners Conroy Black (Sr. 6'0, 186 lbs.) and Ryan Lacy (Jr. 5'9 187 lbs.) are both extremely fast and have been making up for their lack of experience with pure speed.  They both have 2 interceptions, and Lacy has been a productive tackler with 39.  Reggie Topps (Jr. 5'11, 190 lbs.) is the primary NB, but Mo Lee (Jr. 6'0, 190 lbs.) will also see action.

True freshman Eric Rowe (6'1, 185 lbs.) starts at FS and has been very productive.  He has 49 tackles and broken up 6 passes.  He's backed up by Quade Chappuis (So. 5'11, 196 lbs.).

At SS, Utah utilizes it's linebackers to shift into rover spots often.  Blechen is listed as the starter at both SS and LB spots.  Michael Walker (So. 5'9 185 lbs.) plays bigger than his size, but he still is more of a coverage SS.  

Special Teams

Junior kicker Coleman Peterson is 13/17 on field goal attempts and 25/26 on XP.  Nick Marsh handles the kickoff duties, but has only 8/48 kickoffs for touchbacks.  However, Utah has done well on kickoff coverage, allowing only 17 yards per return, but they have given up a TD.

Sean Sellwood and Nick Marsh split punting duties, and both are averaging over 40 yards per punt.  Again, Utah has covered punt returns well, but have allowed a TD return.

Reggie Dunn will handle kick return duties and is averaging 25 yards per return.  Griff McNabb handles punt return duties, but he has been more of a fair catch specialist.

That concludes the Utah Utes preview.  Fire away with any additional comments.

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