Whether BYU decides to attack them on the ground or through the air, the Utah Utes feel good about their defense heading into Saturday’s game in Provo.
The Utes, who are coming off a 51-48 overtime loss to Oregon State in which they allowed Sean Mannion to pass for 443 yards and five touchdowns, still think their defense is good enough to slow the Cougars.
The Utes believe their rushing defense, which is giving up just 96.7 yards a game, can stop BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and running back Jamaal Williams. Both are averaging more than 100 yards a game.
If Hill goes to the air, Utah is confident it can put pressure on Hill, even though they only managed just two sacks on Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton and one on Oregon State’s Sean Mannion.
Defensive end Trevor Reilly gave credit to Keeton’s mobility and Mannion’s quick release for the lack of sacks.
“I think we’re ready to go this week and hopefully we can get a pass rush,” he said. “We need to be able to stop the run, too, but I think we can do that.”
Utah’s secondary was picked apart by Mannion, but the Utes don’t think Hill is the same caliber passer. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham called Mannion’s performance one of the best he has seen as a coach.
Whittingham, Utah’s former defensive coordinator, has spent extra time this week working with the corners and believes they can be effective enough to help the Utes win games, the inexperienced players just need to keep learning, he said.
“The discouraging thing would have been if we just got run by and didn’t have the athletes; that wasn’t the case,” he said of the Oregon State loss. “We didn’t have our eyes a couple of times and turned the receivers loose, but it wasn’t because of a lack of athleticism. We have the tools, we just have to keep fine-tuning those guys.”
Whittingham called Utah’s 3-0 win over the Cougars in 2003 one of his favorite memories.
“Defensive coordinators dream of 3-0 games,” he said. “But I guess 2-0 would have been better.”
Strong hands needed
The Utes have practiced several ball security drills with the anticipation BYU’s defense is going to try to create some fumbles.
Winning the turnover battle is a point of emphasis this week, said tight end Jake Murphy.
“We have to take care of the football, hold onto the ball, no fumbles, no interceptions,” he said. “BYU’s defense is good at causing turnovers so we need to focus on that and zone in on that.”
Whittingham is 5-3 against BYU as head coach. In his 19 years on Utah’s staff he has participated in 12 wins and seven losses. ... Utah is 13-6 all-time in games televised on ESPN2.