Kruger and Misi form frightening tandem for Utes

By Bryan Chouinard, Staff Writer

Rich Rodriguez knew he was going to have a lot of challenges facing him when he took over as head coach in Ann Arbor, Mich.

First of all, he had the challenge of incorporating his famous spread offense, which he mastered during his time at West Virginia. Second, he was taking over a Michigan team that lost its starting quarterback, starting running back, top two wideouts and half the starting offensive line, which included 2007 No. 1 draft pick, Jake Long.

On top of it all, his young, inexperienced offense was forced to deal with the Utes’ outstanding one-two punch of Paul Kruger and Koa Misi.

These two teammates and off-the-field friends are sure to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks all season.

Although there is no questioning the physical dominance of the duo, it could be the camaraderie between the defensive line that sets it apart as one of the MWC’s elite.

“It’s exciting to see guys make plays,” Kruger said. “Everyone’s really tight-knit, people are hanging out, having fun together, we’re all friends, it’s all positive. It’s a lot easier to come out and work hard at practice when you know everybody else is working hard around you. These guys care about each other.”

This type of commitment to school and team is more prevalent on the Ute practice field than anywhere else. While the preseason and two-a-day practices can be grueling and disheartening for some, for Misi and Kruger it has been a chance to build on the success that they experienced at the end of last season.

“It’s a big difference, this year from last year,” Kruger said. “Coach (Whittingham) has been pushing us to perfection since last year. We did well last year and we’re confident with the guys we have coming back.”

Kruger and Misi seem to be the perfect one-two punch for the U defensive line because they pick up one another’s slack.

“We both work hard and that forces us to be better,” Misi said. “He makes plays, I make plays, and it makes us each work harder.”

“We have been working hard in practice and there is no doubt in our minds we can be a great defense,” Kruger said. “We’re really excited about what’s going on and we have a lot of confidence in this whole defense.”

The defense should be confident after its performance Aug. 30 against Michigan. The defense was led by Kruger and Misi, who were in the faces of Michigan quarterbacks Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet from beginning to end. The Utes applied constant pressure from the opening kickoff, leaving Michigan unable to establish an offensive rhythm throughout the game. Kruger led the Ute defense in tackles, recording nine in the game, including one that involved teaming up with Misi for a sack.

“Paul (Kruger) is so quick off the ball,” Misi said. “If he gets a good pass rush, then I get a good rush. It helps us both out.”

The two pass-rushing defensive ends got a good push most of the day against the offensive line of Michigan, which was no match for the powerful defensive line of the Utes. This was not only evident in Kruger’s stats, but Misi’s as well. By the end of the game, Misi had five tackles of his own on top of his team-leading 1.5 sacks.

“Koa (Misi) is a fast guy, gets good leverage; he’s always in the
backfield,” Kruger said. “If I don’t get there, I know he will. It’s his speed and how low he gets that makes him a great player.”

Misi and Kruger spearheaded the Ute rush defense that allowed a measly 1.4 yards-per-carry for Michigan running backs. It was this factor that allowed the defensive backs of Utah to play so well, which also contributed to the solid performance of the Ute’s defense.

“The defense was consistent from start to finish,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “They really controlled the game.”

Now with Michigan out of the way, Misi, Kruger and the Utes turn their attention to welcoming UNLV into Rice-Eccles Stadium this weekend. This is an important game on many different levels for the Utes. Kruger and Misi hope to turn the tables on the UNLV running game this year as part of a defense that is more experienced and more determined than ever to show just how good it can be.

“The biggest thing for us is to play to the ball,” Kruger said. “We need to be working hard every play, no loafing, everybody needs to be hustling to the ball.”

The defensive line took a small shot at Michigan as Kenape Eliapo will miss six-to-eight weeks with a broken foot.

[email protected]

Tyler Cobb

Paul Kruger?s sacks Michigan?s quarter back during Saturday?s game. The Utah defense is determined to show UNLV that they are more experienced and ready to play ball.

Tyler Cobb

Defensive linemen Koa Misi and Paul Kruger feed off each other?s energy during practices. The pressure the duo applied on Michigan?s quarterback played a key role in Utah?s win last Saturday.