Utah’s defense is among the best in the conference and is the bread and butter of its success so far this season.
Arizona is going to have major fits trying to contain Utah’s defensive ends. At left end is 6-foot-3, 266-pound sophomore Hunter Dimick. He currently has 13.5 tackles for loss, nine of which are sacks.
The other end spot goes to 6-foot-4, 255-pound senior Nate Orchard. There aren’t many players with better stats than Orchard, as he has 19 tackles for loss and 16 of them are sacks.
He is also second on Utah with 73 tackles and most teams have chosen to double team him because one guy is going to have difficulty getting the job done.
Senior Sese Ianu does not have great numbers, but he does his job well. Utah’s scheme isn’t going to really allow for high numbers from the tackles, so Ianu’s ability to contain the run and plug the gaps is what is important here.
Next to Ianu is 6-foot-1, 310-pound freshman Lowell Lotulelei. He has 22 tackles on the season and three of them have been quarterback sacks.
Utah’s linebacker unit took a hit earlier this week when it was announced that Gionni Paul would miss the season. He was third on Utah in tackles despite only playing in eight games.
Junior Jason Fanaika will move between the Stud and Mac linebacker positions. Fanaika has accounted for 37 tackles this season and has been able to get three sacks and an interception as well.
Jared Norris is probably the most consistent linebacker of the bunch. The 6-foot-2, 237-pound junior leads Utah with 90 tackles and has also accounted for 11 tackles for loss.
Utah’s secondary is physical and Arizona will have to match that physicality if its receivers are going to be able to get separation.
Eric Rowe has 11 pass deflections, which easily leads the Utes. He has also come up with an interception this season and does well with the short routes.
The other corner spot goes to sophomore Dominique Hatfield. Rowe may be the better corner of the two, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Hatfield is a bad corner.
The Utes will mostly play nickel and the starting nickel back is sophomore Justin Thomas. He is second on the team with seven pass breakups and has 30 tackles so far this season.
Strong safety Brian Blechen and free safety Marcus Williams are similar players. Bleached is probably better in pass coverage, but again, there aren’t many guys on this defense that aren’t doing their job.
It’s not impossible to score on Utah, but it is certainly difficult. Arizona’s offense had difficulty against Washington last week and, in some ways, this will be a similar test.
Players to Watch:
#49, DE Hunter Dimick: Orchard gets the attention, but Dimick is pretty darn good. He’s one of the reasons why it is difficult to double any player on the Utah defensive line and Arizona is going to have to be aware of him at all times.
#12, NB Justin Thomas: With the way that Arizona’s offense works with the shorter routes, Thomas is going to have a busy day. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him pick up a good amount of tackles and if he fails to play well, the Wildcats will be much better for it.
#53, LB Jason Whittingham: Whittingham has missed every conference game so far, but is expected to be back for Arizona. It may take some time for him to return to just how good of a linebacker he is, but he should be able to lessen the blow of losing Paul.