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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Utes put O’Connell, Aztecs’ offense to bed in win

By Jon Gilbert

Utah’s defensive performance in a 23-7 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs on Saturday was embodied brilliantly in one play by defensive end Nai Fotu in the third quarter.

Fotu set up to defend a running play on the left side, and when he went unblocked by the Aztec offense, the true freshman delivered a cracking blow to the ball carrier, Atiyyah Henderson.

The hit by Fotu was a theme for the Utes all afternoon.

“It felt like I was on top of the world,” Fotu said of the hit.

With the second most sacks in the MWC, Utah rattled SDSU’s above-average passing game by pressuring the quarterback. Everywhere he looked Saturday, San Diego State quarterback Kevin O’Connell saw red jerseys.

The Utah defense hounded O’Connell throughout the Utes’ victory, sacking the senior five times and hurrying him on several other occasions.

If it wasn’t Martail Burnett, then it was Casey Sutera. If it wasn’t Sutera, then it was Fotu.

Sutera tallied 1.5 sacks, Fotu and R.J. Stanford notched one apiece and Gabe Long and Koa Misi both contributed half of a sack. Burnett assisted a sack to bring his conference-leading total to 4.5.

When O’Connell found enough time to throw the ball, he didn’t fare much better. He completed less than half of his passes and threw an interception to Sean Smith, who leads the Utes with four thefts.

“First of all, I want to take my hat off to the defensive line,” Smith said. “They put so much pressure on the quarterback, and that made my job a lot easier. As far as the interception, that’s just what I do. It was a comeback route, and I read it well.”

The Utes knew that playing stout defense would be key for victory. San Diego State entered the game third in the MWC in both scoring offense and total offense, posting nearly 26 points and more than 400 yards per game. Utah’s defense held the Aztecs to one score on a paltry 211 yards of total offense.

SDSU’s touchdown came in the second quarter when the Aztecs employed a trick play to get down the field. Wide receiver Alston Umuolo motioned into the backfield where he received the ball on an apparent end around. However, Umuolo pulled up and threw back across the field to O’Connell, who snuck out of the backfield.

The play went for 35 yards and set the Aztecs up on the Utah 10-yard line with a first down.

A couple of plays later, Brandon Sullivan bullied his way into the end zone, but that was all the Aztecs could muster in the loss.

Another ripe opportunity presented itself in the second quarter when Corey Boudreaux intercepted Ute quarterback Brian Johnson and returned the ball to the Utah 40-yard line.

In enemy territory with a 7-6 lead, SDSU could not capitalize. O’Connell was sent scrambling a few players later and threw the ball right to Smith for the interception. Utah drove down and made the go-ahead field goal.

The defense stood strong one last time as San Diego State tried to make a comeback in the fourth quarter. The Aztecs were threatening with the ball once again in Utah territory. But the Utes sacked O’Connell on second and third down, leaving SDSU in desperation fourth down with 26 yards to go, which they could not convert. The way the Utes strode off the field was also a testament to the defense’s overall effort.

“The swagger is amazing,” Smith said. “In order for us to feed off of each other and make big plays, we’ve got to have that swagger. We noticed that when we do have that, we play a whole lot better as a team.”

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