Defensive Game Review: Utah vs UCLA

Utah's defense looks to be amongst the best in the Pac-12 & showed it against a talented UCLA squad

Let’s just face the facts. Utah’s will always have one of the best defenses in the conference. We all have doubts about who will replace so and so and the next guy up isn’t as talented as so and so, but in the end Sitake is a defensive guru and know how to maximize every last drop out of his players. Yes, Utah has given up 28 points in each of their two Pac-12 games, but that’s the new norm of the Pac-12. With a few exceptions, if you can hold your Pac-12 opponent to 21 to 28 points, you're likely going to win. Don't believe me? Check out the results over the past two or three weeks of conference play. Most games end in the 30's or higher.

Is there any question about how tough these guys are up front? Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick are making quite a pair through just five games, and dare we say that the combo of Orchard and Dimick are better than last year’s Orchard and Reilly combination? As far fetched as that might sound, let's look at the numbers. Through 5 games Dimick and Orchard have combined for 13.5 sacks (8.5 for Orchard and 5 for Dimick). Last year’s combination of Trevor Reilly and Nate Orchard finished the 2013 season with a total of 12 sacks. Nate’s certainly improved his game, but Dimick is outplaying Nate’s 2013 performance.

At times, Orchard was abusing UCLA’s left tackle Malcolm Bunche. Nate was able to set up Bunche with rushes to the outside and then fool Bunche with a quick moves up the middle that ultimately added pressure to UCLA’s Heisman quality quarterback Brett Hundley.

Dimick had one of his best games as a Ute. His development and technique are really starting to show. Dimick, a former two star recruit out of Syracuse, UT, owned UCLA’s four-star Caleb Benenoch. Dimick’s combinations of bull rushes and explosive moves on the outside kept Benenoch guessing and going backwards all game. Dimick’s hands and technique continue to improve in each game. This redshirt freshman is still young, but quickly making a name for himself in the conference and UCLA's adjustments including a running back to help Benenoch with Hunter in the second half showed the respect they have for Dimick.

As a redshirt freshman, Lowell Lotulelei had fantastic starting debut for the Utes. More often than not, he was able to take on two blockers and stop the inside run. While 4 solo tackles and 1 assist don’t look like much, he was able to do most of his damage with two lineman in his face. UCLA had more success on the ground when Lowell was on the bench. Lotulelei is the best interior lineman on this squad right now and he’s still figuring out how to play the position. Lowell could be scary good in another year or two at this pace.

Linebacker Jared Norris has really evolved into a star for this team. Yes, he’s not flashy with interceptions or huge hits, but his consistency is what makes him stand out. His abilities as a run stopper and blitzer are becoming a huge part of Kalani Sitake’s defensive scheme. While Gionni Paul makes headlines with huge plays, Norris seems to clean up the rest and gets it done without a lot of fan fare or notice. Can we all agree that Norris is faster than he’s ever been?

The secondary did enough to win the game, but there were lapses as Dominique Hatfield and Eric Rowe had issues at times with UCLA’s bigger and stronger receivers. In their defense, the pass coverage you didn't see on TV was fantastic. Yes, we're talking about the coverage while Hundley was running for his life. Many of the Ute’s ten sacks are directly attributable to some great shutdown work by the secondary. The lapse by Hatfield and Godfrey on UCLA’s Devon Fuller 92 yard touchdown reception just can’t happen. Hatfield won't make the same mistake again. These guys are still young are being forced to learn on the job, but they’ll be better for it in the long run.

Tevin Carter is really missed when he’s not out there. Carter’s pick six proved to be the difference in the game as UCLA’s offense out scored Utah’s offense 28 to 23. Without question Andre Godfrey was much better as a substitute for Carter than Marcus Williams, but the drop from Carter to anyone else is steep and treacherous. Carter is better in coverage and deadly in run defense. The bye week will be critical as Carter needs to get health for the next seven games.

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