Secondary needs to clean up defensive lapse

By Quinn Wilcox, Staff Writer

Offense sells tickets. Defense wins games.
It’s a saying that has been around forever in football and has stood the test of time. If a team is to have any chance at making a run at a championship, whether that be conference or national, the defense better be able to stop somebody.

Fortunately for the Utes, they have had a good defense the past few years. This defense, combined with their potent spread offense, has kept Utah in the top tier of the Mountain West Conference.

However, a chink might have been found in the armor. Over the past two weeks, the Utes’ secondary has given up 616 yards through the air, a statistic that doesn’t necessarily shout out “good defense.”

The past two games, against Weber State and Oregon State, dropped the Utes’ passing defense to 48th in the nation. It’s a problem the defense knows it will need to work on if there is to be any chance at a Bowl Championship series bid.

“It was those screens and draws,” defensive back Sean Smith said. “The front seven did a good job controlling the line of scrimmage, and we knew what was coming. We just need to react faster to the play and we’ll be fine.”

While Utah’s passing defense has been suspect over the past two weeks, there have been glimpses over the course of the season of a secondary that is indeed in good shape. Before Weber State, the most Utah had given up through the air was 167 yards in the opener against Michigan. So were these last two games just flukes? Or do other teams now have a good scouting report on how to score and move the ball on Utah?

The game against Weber State might not be a good indicator of how to have success throwing the ball against the Utes. Wildcat quarterback Cameron Higgins threw 38 times in that game, and Weber State gave up on running the ball once it fell behind. Also, many of those throws were against Utah’s second-string defense, as the Wildcats fell behind the Utes early.

On the other hand, Oregon State had a lot of success throwing the ball in a close contest, and that game might have been a good guide as to how to get yards against what many consider the best defense in the Mountain West. Lyle Moevao was able to throw his way to 313 passing yards and two touchdowns Oct. 2. The Beavers particularly had success on short throws to their diminutive, speedy skill players. James and Jacquizz Rodgers, both about 5 feet 8 inches tall, each had receptions of more than 40 yards and were able to slice their way down the field with relative ease.

“(Oregon State) ran the same plays for the most part,” Ute cornerback Brice McCain said “The person that they’d throw to would switch up. We just need to get faster at picking up the receiver who made the catch.”

For the next few weeks, the secondary probably won’t face much stiff competition. Utah won’t face another passing attack like Oregon State’s until it plays Max Hall and BYU on Nov. 22. Utah’s recent struggles against the pass don’t appear to be insurmountable. If the Utes can get back to their old ways this week and hold the opposition under 200 yards passing, the secondary should feel confident heading into future games.

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