Scouting Report: Utah's LBs and Secondary

The U of U secondary has a good mix of both size and speed in its secondary. BYU's offense, which leads the Mountain West Conference, looks to face Utah's tough 4-3-4 man-coverage defense at LaVell Edwards Stadium this weekend. Bringing the scouting report on the Ute secondary, as well as the Ute linebackers, are Cougars Dennis Pitta, Michael Reed, Austin Collie and Max Hall.

The Utes of Utah look for payback after a heartbreaking loss to BYU at Rice-Eccles Stadium last year. Leading the way will be senior Ute linebacker Joe Jiannoni, who is starting at middle linebacker for the third year in a row.

"[The Utes have] had some injuries at linebacker," said Pitta. "Despite that, they've had some good success with their linebacker corps. We have to do a good job with being physical with those guys as well. They're a linebacker group that has a little bit of everything. They have some guys that are quicker than others and some guys that are more physical than others, but overall they're a pretty physical team, so we have to match that physicality with our own physical play."

With Hall dinged up a bit with a minor shoulder injury from the Wyoming game, does he feel the U of U linebackers will be looking to take him out early?

"Oh, I don't know and I don't think so," Hall said. "I'll be 100 percent and if they do [blitz], hopefully I can take advantage of it. I don't think they'll blitz as much as Wyoming did. I think there was one drive where they blitzed on every single down and had like four corner blitzes and things like that, so I don't think it will be as crazy, but I do think they will try to put some pressure on me."

The secondary of Utah may not blitz from the outside as much as Wyoming did. The defensive scheme calls for a different type of blitzing that usually comes from the linebackers and safeties.

"On third down situations they like to blitz, and that's where the importance of their press-man defense comes into play," Pitta said. "They run a 4-3-4 defense and like to trust in their cornerbacks. We've faced a 4-3-4 defense all year, so it's nothing new to us, and we've been practicing against it all year. We're going to come out and run our stuff and hopefully we'll be successful."

Utah plays what the players call a man-on-man coverage scheme, which allows the safeties to cover different aspects of the field.

"[The Utes] believe in their secondary and in their corners and their safeties," said Michael Reed. "Doing so hasn't really hurt them that much this year, and they're a good group of guys. They're a fast group of guys that like to get their hands on you, so we know what we're going up against. Some of them are new and some of them we've faced before. It's a good defense and one of the best in the Mountain West Conference. They like to give you different looks and come at you from different angles with blitzes.

"They're on top of the conference in terms of interceptions. I would describe their secondary coverage as man-zero. It's a coverage where the corners are going to come up in your face in one-on-one coverage, and they're going to say, ‘Beat me.' Watching them on film, they've done a good job of that. We have to work hard this week on getting our hands on the DB to get off that jam and the press coverage to find those holes in the defense."

"They play hard and they'll come up and press you," said Hall. "They'll blitz you and try to put some pressure on you. You have to give them credit, and I think they're one of the top defenses in the conference. It's going to be a challenge for us, but we just have to focus on what we're doing on our execution to make sure we're doing the right things.

"It will kind of like when New Mexico played us in man-up [coverage] and tried to put pressure on us. Our guys are getting better and better every week and they're stepping up and performing. The nice thing about this is we have guys at every position. We have Dennis [Pitta] to Mike Reed to Austin [Collie] and Matt Allen. Then of course we have our backs, so we've got guys all over the place that can make plays, and so I think it's hard to defend. If we execute and if I see it like I did against Wyoming and get us in the right play, then we'll be affective."

With man-coverage on the outside, the Utah defense will look to use their safeties in run support to try and slow down the Tongan Trio and BYU's big tight ends downfield.

"The way they use their safeties [is] they're going to come up since they're going to leave their corners on man coverage," said Reed. "They know we have a great group of tight ends, and so they're going to come up and try and be physical with them. That just means it leaves everybody on one-on-one coverage, and it means it's our responsibility to beat that person. We know what we have to do with the man-press and have been working on it hard."

One U of U cornerback looking to play press-coverage on BYU's receivers will be 5-foot-9-inch, 189-pound junior Brice McCain, who Utah's fastest player and runs a 4.32 forty.

"They have some fast guys back there, and McCain is a good corner," said Reed. "I went up against him last year and he's pretty aggressive. He's a good player."

"They like to come up and play a lot of press-man coverage," said Pitta. "Obviously we're going to have to be ready for the bump at the line of scrimmage and play physical with them and be aggressive in our routes to get open."

"They also have number-four [Sean Smith], who is a tall cornerback that is around 6'4"," Reed said. "He's a physical guy and played on Jonny [Harline] last year. He's a good player and has about three or four picks this year."

"They also have [Steve] Tate back, who has played well this season," Reed said. "He's pretty good back there and brings experience to their secondary and can play both safety positions for them. We'll be ready though and know what to expect."

"They're good athletes, but this is just another game," said Austin Collie. "We're not going to change anything and come out and play BYU football. It's nothing to really boast about or go off on. We've faced just as good of athletes all year, and this is just another game that is standing in our way of another Mountain West Conference championship."

The type of coverage that Utah plays makes no difference to Hall, who was named the Mountain West Conference Player of the Week for his performance against Wyoming last week.

"It doesn't matter," said Hall of the type of coverage Utah will play. "I mean, if they're going to put some one-on-one coverage out there we'll just trust in Austin [Collie], Mike [Reed] and Matt [Allen] to do what they've been doing. They continue to play well and be sharp in their execution and in their routes, and so I'm expecting the same thing from them in this game as usual."


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