U defense still struggles with the run

The No. 9 U football team (7-0, 3-0) received a No. 6 ranking by the Bowl Championship Series rankings formula, the highest ranking ever achieved by a non-BCS conference school.

The jump from No. 7 to No. 6 was due largely to Saturday’s 63-28 rout of conference foe UNLV (2-6, 1-3).

But after allowing more than 300 yards rushing to a struggling Rebel squad, some questions still remain.

It should be noted that UNLV came into the game with the No. 1-ranked rusher in the Mountain West Conference in Dominique Dorsey. While the Utes have shown a susceptibility to the run earlier in the year, it was not unforeseeable that the Rebels might have success running the ball against the Utes’ defense.

Meyer was impressed by Dorsey’s performance Saturday, but was clearly disappointed with the Utes’ inability to stop him.

“We need to get back to stopping the run,” Meyer said. “Dorsey is an all-conference caliber back, and he looked like it against us.”

Dorsey rushed for 179 yards on 24 carries in a game that one would expect to be filled with UNLV passing stats, considering the early lead seized by the Utes.

It is rare to see a team get down early and then still stick to the run, but that’s exactly what John Robinson’s team did, perhaps realizing that the run was the only thing working for them.

Part of the problem for the Utes was the number of substitutions they made in the second half, where Dorsey compiled most of his yards.

But the fact remains that the primary weakness of the U defense is stopping the run. The Utes are ranked in at least the top three in the MWC in every other major defensive category, but are No. 5 in run defense, giving up 152 yards per game.

Another problem for the Ute defense in stopping the run is the loss of defensive tackle Sione Pouha, who Meyer pegged as one of the U’s top NFL prospects. Pouha suffered a knee injury during the UNLV game, and will not play at San Diego State.

“The optimist says he’ll be out in two weeks,” Meyer said of Pouha’s injury. “The pessimist says three to five weeks. Hopefully the optimist is right.”

Uncertain as to when Pouha will return, the Utes will look to junior Kite Afeaki and senior Tevita Kemoeatu to fill in during his absence. Afeaki believes Dorsey was the first running back to truly break through the U’s defensive line, and says that it would be better to learn the lesson now than to learn it in a game that matters.

“This week we are going to get back to technique,” Afeaki said. “This was the first time we [the defensive line] got beat. We need to work on technique and not lose our edge.”

“It’s better we get beat now so we can get refocused,” he added.

Despite Afeaki’s assertion that UNLV was the first to get through the U’s defensive line, the stats tell a different story. The Utes gave up more than 300 yards rushing as a team to the Air Force Academy a month ago, as well as a week-one lapse against Texas A&M when Reggie McNeal rushed for 84 yards on just 13 carries.

The Utes were fortunate that injuries to New Mexico’s DonTrell Moore and North Carolina’s Jacque Lewis prevented them from doing any damage to the U defense. And with a game this weekend against San Diego State, the MWC’s worst running offense, the Utes will have time to regroup. SDSU averages only 59 yards on the ground per game, and should pose little threat, even with the loss of Pouha.

The Utes are clearly one of the best teams in the country, but a top-tier running back could pose problems for Kyle Whittingham’s tough defensive unit.

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