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Jameson McCausland

Utah Preview: Defense

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Yesterday, we took a look at what to expect from the Utah offense. Today, we turn our attention to the strength of the Utes’, a defense led by one of the top defensive coordinators in the country.

Defensive Line

The Utes have one of the best defensive lines Texas has played this season. They are extremely active and have multiple guys who can get after the quarterback. Senior DE Bradlee Anae is one of the top pass rushers in the country and leads the team with 12.5 sacks. 

Utah enters the Alamo Bowl with the top run defense in the country. The Utes are only allowing 70.3 yards per game on the ground and have received outstanding play from their top 2 defensive tackles, John Penisini and Leki Fotu.

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Francis Bernard and fellow linebacker Devin Lloyd have combined for an impressive 168 tackles on the season and are stout against the run. Lloyd can play sideline to sideline and can be impressive with his ability to cover space.

Defensive Backs

Utah will be without several key members in the secondary. Corner Jaylon Johnson, safety R.J Herbert, and safety Julian Blackmon will not be playing in the Alamo Bowl, which should be welcome news for a Texas offense that is getting Collin Johnson back. The absence of Johnson, in particular, will be a tough pill to swallow for the Utes, as the talented corner opted to skip the bowl game in order to prepare for the NFL draft. 

Even without 3 important contributors, the Utes will still present a good pass defense that will best Sam Ehlinger and the Texas passing attack. Former walk-on Josh Nurse will likely occupy one of the starting corner spots and has played well for much of the season. An interesting player to watch will be safety Nephi Sewell, who only recently became eligible to play late this season after transferring from Nevada.

Overall Thoughts

There is a reason Texas wanted to kick the tires on Utes’ defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley for their DC opening. Utah has one of the toughest defenses in the country. Although the losses in the secondary will hurt, it shouldn’t be a surprise if Utah still puts together a really nice performance. If Texas puts together an offensive game plan similar to what they showed in Ames or Waco earlier this year, it will be ugly. The Longhorns will have to get creative to move the ball on the ground and find a way to get receivers open in the short and intermediate passing game. If they are able to do that, they will give themselves a chance to win.

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