Utah Offensive Line vs Pittsburgh Defensive Line
Utah Offensive Line
This was an improved group last week against Arizona State, but there‘s still a long way to go before they're a solid offensive unit. Penalties and stupid mistakes have been a real problem over the last two games. John Cullen has allowed too much pressure from his side of the line and has been the culprit of a lot of the critical penalties over the last two games. The return of right tackle Tony Bergstrom shifted everybody back to their natural positions and brought a sense of stability back to the line against the Sun Devils. This was reflected in an improved run game and pass protection that allowed backup quarterback Jon Hays to direct the offense from the pocket for the better part of the game. Only one time this season have the Utes started the same five offensive linemen in back-to-back weeks and with all starting linemen finally healthy again at the same time this weekend's game against Pitt will likely be the second.
Pitt Defensive Line
The Panthers run a 3-4 scheme utilizing an extra linebacker rather than a fourth defensive linemen, so based purely on numbers pressure from the front 3 will be tough for Pitt to generate. Pitt has started the same 3 defensive linemen in every game this season outside of the opener and starters Chas Alecxih and Brandon Lindsey are the two players in this unit to keep an eye on. Between them they have 9.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Alecxih also intercepted a pass and returned it 47 yards in the season opener against Buffalo. They'll give the Utah line all they can handle. We saw major improvement on the Ute line when the same 5 practiced together for two consecutive weeks (between the USC and BYU games) and I expect the line to take a similar step forward this week.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Pittsburgh Linebackers
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends
Harvey Langi has secured sole possession of the #2 running back spot on Utah's depth chart, overtaking Tauni Vakapuna. Though brought about mainly because of injury, the backup role will give Langi more reps to prove himself on the field and continue to grow as a player. John White was once again impressive against Arizona State. His numbers won't win him a Heisman Trophy, but they were enough to keep the ASU defense honest and helped keep the Utah offense moving. Ball security will need to be a major focus for this group on Saturday. Tight end Dallin Rogers caught a touchdown for the second straight week, the third straight week a Utah tight end has scored. Jake Murphy returned from injury last week and Kendrick Moeai is listed as probable on Saturday.
Four athletic linebackers give Pitt a formidable front against the run. Pitt's Max Gruder is a lot like Chaz Walker. He currently leads the team in total tackles and also has 4.5 tackles for loss. He'll find the ball carrier on the majority of run plays and will be around the ball most of the afternoon. Ejuan Price is the man to watch on passing downs. He's only a freshman but is extremely athletic and loves to pressure the quarterback. He has 4.5 tackles for loss this season and two sacks. If the Utes don't mark him on passing downs he'll make his way into the backfield early and often. Defense against the pass may be this unit's main weakness, so Rogers, Murphy and Moeai will have to take advantage of Tristan Roberts and Greg Williams. The Panther defense has held opponents to 35% on 3rd downs which means passing downs and extending drives will be the key to this unit for both teams.
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Pittsburgh Corners and Safeties
Utah Quarterback and Wide Receivers
News broke earlier this week that starting quarterback Jordan Wynn's shoulder injury will keep him out for the remainder of the season. That means backup Jon Hays will be the guy for Utah from here on out. If Hays goes down, freshman Tyler Shreve will likely replace him. Hays played well against ASU despite three interceptions. Although he threw two in the first half, the Utes overcame them and had a 14-10 lead in the third quarter. Hays obviously needs to correct the mistakes if the Utes want to win games, but he showed the ability to lead drives and score points which can't be forgotten. His mobility extends plays and his arm is strong enough and accurate enough to make nearly all of the throws he needs to, even when throwing on the run. DeVonte Christopher is Utah's leading receiver but is questionable Saturday with an ankle injury. Expect Reggie Dunn, Dres Anderson, Luke Matthews, and Kenneth Scott to step up in his absence.
Pitt Corners and Safeties
Sophomore cornerback K'Waun Williams is an absolute playmaker. On the season he's the team's second leading tackler to go along with 2 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery. Williams will likely matchup with Dunn or Anderson, both of whom have been stripped of the ball once this season. Ball protection will be an absolute must in this matchup as Williams loves to find ways to make plays. On the other side, at just 5'10" senior Antwuan Reed will give up size against Matthews and Scott. This matchup will likely be one Utah wins most of the afternoon. Safeties Jason Hendricks and Jarred Holley each have an interception on the year, but the Panther defensive backfield is giving up almost 60% completions and over 270 pass yards per game. They are the weakness of the Pitt defense.
Utah Defensive Line vs Pittsburgh Offensive Line
Utah Defensive Line
Star Lotulelei continues to make a name for himself on the Utah defensive line. He has led the linemen in tackles over the past two games and is tied for the lead in total tackles along with Derrick Shelby and Joe Kruger. Star created great pressure up the middle against Arizona State and was a disruptive force in the Sun Devils run game. Shelby also continues to play well for the Utes. With Joe Kruger playing below expectations, Shelby gives Utah it's only real pass rush off the outside edge. He is tied for the Pac-12 lead among defensive linemen in pass breakups. While not liabilities, Dave Kruger, James Aiono and Joe Kruger need to play better.
Pitt Offensive Line
Pitt's offensive line has been very good this season despite having to deal with a few injuries. The Panthers lost one of their most tenured offensive linemen for the season when senior left guard Chris Jacobson went down with a knee injury against Iowa. Sophomore Cory King replaced Jacobson and has started ever since. At right guard, Lucas Nix went down prior to last week's game and didn't play against Rutgers, but is expected to return against Utah. The Pitt line has a combined 66 starts among them. They create a lot of room on the ground and average over 170 rushing yards per game. The unit is physical in the run game but very weak in pass protection where they've allowed a whopping 27 sacks on the year. Derrick Shelby should have an advantage off the edge, and Lotulelei will dominate his matchup against sophomore Cory King.
Utah Linebackers vs Pittsburgh Running Backs and Tight Ends
Middle linebacker Chaz Walker leads both the Utes and the Pac-12 with 47 tackles this season. Chaz has never been a flashy player, but he's very consistent against the run and is always around the ball. Chaz has led the team in tackles four out of the last five games and also has a tackle for loss, a pass breakup, and a forced fumble to his credit. Brian Blechen started at strong safety against Arizona State and is slotted to do so again this week. Versatile DE/OLB Trevor Reilly will take Blechen's place at outside linebacker this week. Reilly leads the nation in tackle-for-loss yardage accounting for 68 negative yards because of his playand his 7 TFL are tied for 2nd in the Pac-12. He seems to make more and more plays each game which has allowed the coaches to move Blechen back to safety while keeping both playmakers on the field at the same time.
Pitt Running Backs and Tight Ends
Running back Ray Graham currently leads the NCAA in rush yards, is 2nd nationally in yards per game, and has rushed for over 200 yards twice already this season. Graham is an absolute beast on the ground and will be the best running back the Utes have faced all season. Washington's Chris Polk dissected the Utah run defense two weeks ago and Graham has the ability to do far worse damage if Utah isn't prepared. Pitt is 3-1 this season when Graham rushes for 100 yards and 2-0 when he reaches 200, so the Ute defense will need to key on Graham if they want a chance at winning this game. Tight end Hubie Graham won't rack up a lot of receiving yards, but he adds a nice element to Pitt's passing attack. Graham has caught 2 touchdowns this year and is always a target in the red zone.
Utah Corners and Safeties vs Pittsburgh Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah Corners and Safeties
Corner Ryan Lacy has been a nice bright-spot for the Utes so far this season. Lacy is currently 7th in the Pac-12 in passes batted down per game and 8th in the conference in total passes broken up. Lacy has a total of 26 tackles on the year and leads the team in solo-tackles with 19. Conroy Black has been solid on the other side of the field, giving Utah a good coverage combination on the outsides. As a true freshman,Eric Rowe has started every game for Utah at safety this season and will be back there once again against Pitt. Brian Blechen is listed to start his second straight game at safety alongside Rowe and will likely shift between safety and linebacker often during the game. Quade Chappuis and Michael Walker have been good when called upon and will replace Blechen when he plays underneath.
Pitt Quarterback and Wide Receivers
Utah last saw Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri last season as he was chasing down young freshman Brian Blechen after throwing a critical interception in overtime at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Sunseri seems to be enjoying the new spread offense implemented by head coach Todd Graham, but the passing game is always easier when you have a running back like Ray Graham behind you. That is what makes this Pitt offense dangerous. Sunseri isn't a world-beater, but he's good enough to make you pay if you don't respect him and his receivers. He's completing 63% of his passes on the season and is averaging just less than 200 yards per game, but has thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). Wide receivers Mike Shanahan and Devin Street are Sunseri's favorite targets. Both are about equal in receptions and yardage and average nearly 4 catches each per game. At 6'5" (Shanahan) and 6'4" (Street) they're big bodies who will cause size problems for Black and Lacy, but neither are good enough to consistently beat them in man coverage. Utah should have a definite advantage in this area.
Unit Matchups - Utah at Pittsburgh
Ute Zone Top Stories
Utes offer 2018 Cali QBThe Utes extended an offer to a 2018 QB out of Fresno. Here's what he thinks of the offer
Ute ZoneYesterday at 9:45 PM
Game preview: Utah defense vs. Cal offenseJames Durrant breaks down what to expect when Utah's defensive and special teams units are on the field
Ute ZoneYesterday at 5:18 PM
Richardson considers becoming "Hometown Hero"The top offensive tackle in the state of Utah is looking hard at the hometown Utes. Could a commitment be in his future?
Ute ZoneThursday at 8:45 PM
Game Matchups: Utah Offense vs Cal DefenseThe Utah offense should be able to have a field day against a porous Cal defense
Ute ZoneThursday at 10:08 AM