Utah is replacing a lot of key parts of last year's defense, and so far the numbers have shown that they are going through growing pains. The defense is giving up over 400 yards a game, despite holding Weber St. to only 205 yards in one of their games. They've been beat up a bit both through the air and the pass. Utah St. and BYU rushed for nearly 200 yards each, while Oregon St. passed for nearly 450 yards against the Ute defense. That said, they've been good on third down, allowing only 26/71 conversions on third down, and the defense has already tallied 15 sacks and 31 tackles for loss this year.
Utah's four man front lost Star Lotulelei and Dave and Joe Kruger from last year's squad. However, they've brought back a couple really good lineman in Trevor Reilly and Tenny Palepoi. Reilly (6'5, 255 lbs., Sr.) starts and is a sort of hybrid LB/DE. Reilly has two sacks and 6 tackles for loss, and is probably the best defender on the unit. The other end is manned by Nate Orchard (6'3 255 lbs., Jr.) who also has a sack and 3.5 tackles for loss this year.
Palepoi (6'2, 300 lbs., Sr.) has been very good from the tackle position, tallying 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 18 tackles. He'll be paired with Latu Heimuli (6'3, 305 lbs., Sr.), LT Tuipulotu (6'1, 305 lbs., Sr.) Sam Tevi (6'5 295 lbs., Fr.) to form a pretty deep group inside.
While there was a lot of attrition on the defensive front, Utah returns a solid group of linebackers. 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, 225, Jr.) after playing in 11 games last year and has 14 tackles in 3 games this year.
Utah's WLB, or Rover slot, is filled by Jacoby Hale (6'0, 225 lbs., Jr.) and LT Filiaga (6'0, 240 lbs., So.). 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. Filiaga has not played in the last two games, but I cannot find any injury news.
The SLB is filled by Jared Norris (6'1, 230 lbs., So.), who fits the mold as another quick linebacker. He has 25 tackles and 2 tackles for loss this year. Jason Whittingham (6'2, 240 lbs., So.), nephew of head coach Kyle Whittingham, will also see plenty of action. He missed the first two games of the year but has 15 tackles over the past two games.
Utah's secondary lost the top three cornerbacks from last year's team, and the youth really showed when Oregon St. put up nearly 450 passing yards in Utah's Pac-12 opener. Last game, however, BYU only managed to complete 18/48 pass attempts and the secondary should improve all year long. The cornerbacks are Juco transfer Keith McGill (6'3, 205 lbs., Sr.), Michael Walker (5'9, 182 lbs., Sr.), and freshmen Reginald Porter (5'11, 190 lbs., Fr.) and Justin Thomas (5'9, 173 lbs., Fr.).
At safety, Utah does not have experiences issues. Eric Rowe (6'1, 185 lbs., Jr) starts at FS and has started his entire career at Utah. Rowe has 24 tackles and has broken up 5 passes this year.
At SS, Utah often utilizes it's linebackers to shift into rover, which Brian Blechen (6'2, 215 lbs., Sr.) can do very well as a hybrid type player. He's a very good athlete, but he's probably better against the run than in coverage. Quade Chappuis (5'11, 198 lbs., Sr.) is a very athletic back-up but has been out the past two games.
That concludes the Utah Utes defensive preview. Fire away with any additional comments.