Utah football: Blechen, others itching for INTs
The Utah Utes' failure to reach bowl eligibility this year was a huge disappointment for safety Brian Blechen.
The other disappointment? Going without a pick.
"Being without one, it's hard," he said. "It seemed like I got a lot more chances last year and when I was a freshman. This year, zero picks. They are hard to come by, especially against Pac-12 teams."
Blechen, who had seven interceptions in his first two years with the Utes, exemplifies one of Utah's biggest defensive issues this year.
Normally a team skilled at creating turnovers, the Utes have just four interceptions this season. Last year, the Utes had 19. Utah has done a better job in forcing fumbles, with 19 this season compared to just 13 a year ago. But the lack of turnovers created by the defense is a deficiency the Utes must fix going forward, according to coach Kyle Whittingham.
"We need to start taking the ball away again," he said. "We've been good at that the past several years and this year we've been extremely poor at that. That's such a big part of the game takeaways and setting up your offense in short fields. We did not do that at all this year."
Blechen earned a reputation at being one of the best in creating turnovers, finishing third in the MWC in 2010 with four and had three in 2011, tying him for eighth in the Pac-12.
But big plays have been hard to come by for the junior. Playing stiffer competition in the Pac-12 has been only part of the issue. He was suspended for the first three games for breaking team policies then it took him a while to gel with the rest of the defense.
A lack of consistency in the lineup is one of the reasons Utah's coaches believe the defense has struggled more than expected. Blechen for one said he was affected by all the lineup changes.
There were his own issues, plus injuries to guys like Joe Kruger, Quade Chappuis, Ryan Lacy and others that affected the defense.
"It takes a little time getting used to playing with guys," Blechen said. "Me and [fellow safety] Eric Rowe, it helps when you know what the other is doing with disguises and feeling each other out across the field, all that takes time."
Blechen did get an impact play last week against Arizona as he caused a fumble in the first quarter that was recovered by teammate Star Lotulelei.
"Sometimes it's luck," he said. "Sometimes things just go your way, but definitely my freshman year I felt quarterbacks were trying to come at me or wouldn't hesitate to throw my way. This year has been a little different and the quarterbacks have all been pretty good and sound at keeping the ball and not throwing into coverage and stuff."
With one game to go, Blechen hopes he can end his streak Friday. The good news for Blechen is Colorado quarterback Jordan Webb has thrown eight interceptions to go with eight touchdown passes.
"I definitely want a pick," he said. "As a secondary, we've been talking about it all season, that we need to take advantage of the opportunities when they come and hopefully we can get a lot of opportunities this week."
The Utes have struggled to get interceptions this year, here is a look at the league and how the teams rank in the category.
Team • Interceptions
Oregon • 20
USC • 18
ASU • 17
Oregon St. • 17
Washington • 15
UCLA • 15
Cal • 14
Wash. St. • 14
Stanford • 12
Arizona • 10
Utah • 4
Colorado • 3
Team Fumbles Recovered
Utah • 13
UCLA • 13
Washington • 13
Oregon • 12
Stanford • 11
Arizona • 11
Colorado • 11
USC • 11
Cal • 9
Oregon St. • 9
ASU • 8
Wash. St. • 5
Utah at Colorado
P Friday, 1 p.m.
TV • FX