Defensive seniors will blow through schedule

By By Bubba Brown

By Bubba Brown

It would have been a lot easier to write this column if Oregon hadn’t rolled up more than 200 rushing yards and 31 points on the Ute defense Saturday.

But as poorly as the defense played, the offense was even worse, giving me a still-valid platform to argue that the defense will outperform the offense this year.

Let’s start by focusing on the defense’s positives. It has a good dose of senior leadership, beginning with Koa Misi up front. The defensive line has underperformed thus far, only totaling two sacks on the season, but look for Misi to lead the front to a productive season the rest of the way.

The linebacker corps is strong and has seniors Mike Wright and Stevenson Sylvester leading the way. Both guys are proven, all-conference caliber players and are second and third on the team in tackles, respectively. The Utes also have senior strength in the secondary, particularly among the safeties. Robert Johnson is already working on a follow-up to a strong 2008 campaign, which saw him collect 41 tackles and four interceptions. Johnson was one of the few bright spots Saturday when he intercepted a Jeremiah Masoli pass that was ticketed to be a Duck touchdown. Safety Joe Dale has also inserted himself as a defensive leader. The senior leads the team in tackles with 21 and also has a sack. Once this senior-laden defense gets its feet under itself, it will be back to shutting down passing games and stuffing running threats.

In addition, the Utes have only a few teams on their schedule with offenses that could be a threat. TCU is one of those teams, and like last year, TCU’s offense will be good with junior quarterback Andy Dalton at the reigns. But TCU’s strength is defense rather than offense so Utah’s defense should realistically be able to clamp down.

The other team that has an offense good enough to pose a threat to Utah’s defense is BYU, which hung 54 points on Tulane two weeks ago. Last season, BYU had a good offense except when faced with quick, athletic defenses such as Utah’s. It appears as though that trend will continue this season, as Max Hall and the Cougar offense have not looked good against the athletic defenses of Oklahoma and Florida State.

The number one reason that the Ute defense is better than the offense is, well, the ineptitude of the offense. The offense looked OK against Utah State, but hey, it was Utah State. Against San Jose State, it looked downright bad. Fumbles, stagnant drives, and poorly thrown passes led to being tied at seven with the Spartans going into the fourth quarter. Saturday against the Ducks, the offense looked even worse. Facing a defense that gave up 36 points to lowly Purdue just a week before, the Utah offense failed to do much of anything right. The offense mounted only one legitimate drive and at one point failed to complete a pass for several possessions in addition to two fumbles and two interceptions.

Although the defense hasn’t looked great by any stretch of the imagination, I don’t cringe when it runs out onto the field.

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