Utah’s defense is 82nd in the country in total defense, but 20th in scoring defense. It gave up 30 plus to UW and ASU – not great, but not bad considering the teams they were playing. More importantly, they’ve had big games on the road – a close (23-14) loss to USC, as well as giving up only 10 and 14 to BYU and Pitt respectively. The group has been solid all year.
The line is led by junior NT Star Lotulelei, who stands 6’4″ 320. He is extremely strong and has 4 TFL on the year – as Keith Jackson would say, a disruptor. He is joined by Senior James Aiono (6’4″ 305).
The Utes are deep at the end spots, shuffling Tevita Finau (6’5″, 283), Dave Kruger (6’5″, 285), Joe kruger (6’7″, 270 – Dave’s brother) and Derrick Shelby (6’3, 262). Shelby is explosive and leads the team with 5.5 TFL, and the Kruger brothers are both key contributors and have 4 TFL between them.
Chaz Walker is the starter at MLB. He’s a former walk-on, who led the team last year with 113 tackles. The 6’223 pounder is again leading the team with 50 at this point in the year. He is backed up by fellow senior JJ Williams, who was a starter himself last year until he got hurt.
Matt Martinez gets one of the OLB spots. Another former walk-on, he’s simply a football player who lives to hit. At 6’225, he’s an emotional leader for the defense. At the other OLB spot, Brian Blechen is probably the defense’s best player. He is was converted from safety – which itself was a conversion from quarterback, where he was a high school All American. Needless to say, he’s an athlete. He’s second on the team with 39 tackles, and has a penchant for big plays, best demonstrated with his two game-icing picks last season.
Conroy Black (6′, 185 pound) is the star of the defense. He has NFL written all over him – he has size, plus purported 4.3 speed and a 40 inch vertical, which allows him to matchup with virtually any receiver. He’ll likely draw Keenan Allen most the night, and he has 2 picks on the year (leading the team).
Ryan Lacy is the other starter at corner. A junior who stands 5’10″, he doesn’t have Black’s ideal size, but is also a burner. Reggie Topps, a 5’11 junior, has also seen playing time.
At safety, the Utes call upon Michael Walker. He’s 5’9″ but hits much bigger than that. He’s backed up by senior Greg Bird, who possess more traditional strong safety size at 6’2″, 214. His experience makes him a valuable contributor.
At free safety, true freshman Eric Rowe is making an impact. He leads the DBs with 32 tackles.
Reggie Dunn and Ryan Lacy are the main kick returns, and both have roughly 22 yard averages. Freshman WR Charles Henderson gets in the game at PR, where he’s average just under 12 yards a return. None have returned a kick yet (*knock on wood*).
Nick Marsh handles the kickoffs, with a 67 yard net average and a touchback rate of 22%. He also shares punt duties with Sean Sellwood, and both average just over 40 yards a punt. Coleman Peterson does the placekicking, and has made 8 of 10 FGs and 17 of 18 PATs.
Biggest Advantage vs Cal Defense:
Big plays on the road. Utah has a startling +10 turnover margin on the road, part of the reason they’ve done so well against good teams in USC, BYU and Pitt. If that continues – and given Maynard’s propensity for risky plays – another impressive road win will be much more likely.
Biggest Disadvantage vs. Cal Defense;
A 5’9″ corner (backed by a 5’9″ safety) is going to be matched up against either Marvin Jones or Keenan Allen. This is not good for the Utes. Utah’s interior DL depth is also suspect, which may allow Cal’s running game to get going.