Oppo Preview: Utah's Defense & Special Teams

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

UCLA Football: Previewing the Utah Utes - Part 2 - Defense & Special Teams

As discussed in Part I of the Utah Ute preview, Utah's season has been a disappointment after being picked as a darkhorse candidate by many pundits. Most of Utah's struggles have been on the offensive side of the ball, however, and Utah has a formidable defense.

Utah has a similar defense to last year's, but they did lose some key parts. They did return a very strong defensive line, but have been struggling somewhat in the secondary. Utah is very big up front, but is small and fast in the next two levels. The unit struggled against Utah St. and Arizona St., which bodes well for Mazzone's spread attack, but the Utes' ability to dominate the line of scrimmage will be a tough task for UCLA's young offensive line.

Defensive Line

Utah's 4-3 starts with NT Star Lotulelei (6'4, 325 lbs., Sr.). Lotulelei will likely be a top 10 pick in next year's NFL draft, and he can absolutely dominate an offensive line inside. Lotulelei was an unheralded recruit, and is a transfer from Snow CC, which shows you how difficult projecting growth of interior lineman can be. Lotulelei will often line up directly over the center, making it difficult to double team him in time before he gets penetration, and he is essentially single handedly able to disrupt the inside running game.

At the other DT position, one of the two Kruger's gets the start. Elder Dave Kruger (6'5, 285 lbs., Sr.) is a run plugger. He'll be backed up by another CC transfer, Junior Salt (6'2, 340 lbs., Jr.), who comes from nearby Mt. San Antonio JC. Salt originally committed to Florida and has plenty of talent to go along with his size.

At end, the other Kruger, Joe Kruger (6'7 270 lbs., Jr.) starts opposite Nate Fakahafua (6'3, 240 lbs., So.). Kruger's size make him a solid run stuffing force at end, but Utah has not replaced departed Derrick Shelby's every down pass rushing ability. Fakahafua was a pass rush specialist last year, but he's a bit light for an every down lineman.

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 V.J. Fehoko (5'11, 223, So.) is replacing last year's leading tackler, Chaz Walker (Sr. 6'0, 223 lbs.).

SLB Trevor Reilly (6'5, 240 lbs., Jr.) starts and is a sort of hybrid LB/DE. Reilly is tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks and leads the team with 32 tackles. He'll often line up at the line of scrimmage to form a five man front.

Utah's WLB, or Rover slot, is filled by Jacoby Hale (6'0, 225 lbs., So.) and LT Filiaga (6'0, 240 lbs., Fr.). While neither has much experience, they are both good athletes capable of making plays. Filiaga was a fairly highly rated recruit in the 2009 class that has sat out three years for an LDS mission and redshirt season.

Secondary

Utah's secondary started the season well, but gave up a lot of big plays against Arizona St. and USC in Pac-12 play. On the year, they're giving up a 61.5% completion percentage and 7.5 yards per attempt, but Arizona St. and USC both completed over 74% of their passes and gained over 10 yards per attempt.

Ryan Lacy (5'9 187 lbs., Sr.) returns at one corner spot. Lacy has good speed and started every game last year. Reggie Topps (5'11, 190 lbs., Sr.) and Mo Lee (6'0, 190 lbs., Sr.) will play the other CB spot and NB spot.

Eric Rowe (6'1, 185 lbs., So) starts at FS after starting as a true freshman last year. Rowe missed a couple games due to injury, but he has still gathered 20 tackles this year.

At SS, Utah utilizes it's linebackers to shift into rover spots often. Brian Blechen (6'2, 215 lbs., Jr.) started last season as a linebacker has settled back into a full-time safety. He's a very good athlete, but he's probably better against the run than in coverage. Quade Chappuis (5'11, 198 lbs., Jr.) is a very athletic back-up and will see time, especially in passing downs.

Special Teams

Senior kicker Coleman Peterson is only 3/7 on field goal attempts and 15/16 on XP. Nick Marsh handles the kickoff duties, but has only a 36% touchback rate. Despite the lack of touchbacks, Utah has done well on kickoff coverage, allowing only 16 yards per return.

Senior Sean Sellwood is doing a good job this year, averaging over 47 yards per punt. Opponents are gaining over 12 yards per return, and Utah St. returned a punt for a touchdown, but the coverage has improved of late.

DeVonte Christopher will handle kick return duties and is averaging just over 23 yards per return. Charles Henderson (5'9, 182 lbs., Fr.) handles punt return duties, and has managed nearly 12 yards per return.

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

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