Ute defense is up to the task of stopping Halliday, Cougars

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- Chris Samuels

In the first quarter of Utah’s 26-10 victory over Michigan last Saturday, Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner scrambled towards the sideline, hoping to be able to turn the edge. Ute linebacker Jared Norris didn’t let him get there. When Norris saw Gardner heading for the sideline he started in pursuit. In an impressive display of speed, Norris tracked down Gardner for the sack.

It was one of many plays the Utah defense made against their Big 10 foe, but a whole new challenge is on the horizon. Fresh off the game against the run-heavy, pro-style offense of Michigan, the Utes will have to switch gears as they welcome in the pass-happy, spread formations of Washington State.

“It’s a completely different offense,” Norris said about the Cougars. “They don’t huddle at all, they spread the ball out — it’s the exact opposite. We are going to do the same thing with our defense, kind of spread out, try to bring some pressure at the same time.”

Norris’ speed was enough to get to Gardner last weekend in Ann Arbor, but Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday’s trigger might be quicker than Norris’ or anyone else’s legs.

Norris said that he expects to still blitz Halliday from his linebacker position and said the team is putting full trust in the safeties and corners to try to halt the many weapons the Cougars have at their disposal.

“We expect to see all four wide sets,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said about the WSU offense. “It’s tough. They look for weaknesses in the defense and try to exploit that, so we have to be solid across the board on all four guys because they got four or five guys with a bunch of catches, and they’ll go to the guy who’s got the best matchups.”

The pressure will be on the Ute secondary to cover WSU wide outs Isiah Myers, Vince Mayle, Dom Williams and River Cracraft who all average over 70 yards receiving per game, but Utah corners Eric Rowe, Dominique Hatfield, Justin Thomas and Davion Orphey shouldn’t be alone.

Ute safeties Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter have proven they are a more than capable last line of defense, and Norris, along with fellow linebacker Gionni Paul, has the speed to help in coverage as well.

According to Norris, his fellow linebacker is just as fast, or maybe even a little faster when Paul is at 100 percent.

“Me and [Paul] always go back and forth arguing with each other,” Norris said. “Maybe if he was healthy he would be able to beat me.”

The two may be asked to spend time in coverage demonstrating that speed against the Cougars, so it’s a good thing there were no communication issues when Paul played his first game as a Ute against the Wolverines.

Norris, Paul and the rest of the Utah defense will have their hands full as they try to make life miserable for Halliday and the WSU offense.

“[Halliday’s] got nearly 500 yards a game throwing,” Whittingham said. “We got to hold up in coverage and try to disrupt the quarterback a little bit, get hands up in throwing lanes. Can’t let him get comfortable or it’s going to be a long evening.”

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