Utah football: Utes' test against top QBs continues
One quarterback racked up almost 500 yards of total offense as he found weaknesses in both Utah's passing and running defense, while another decimated Utah's secondary with pinpoint passing.
Now comes UCLA's Brett Hundley, who is one of the country's top-rated quarterbacks as he boasts an average of 335 yards of total offense.
Are the Utes ready for Hundley and the Bruins when the teams meet at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Thursday? They are going to have to be.
Like Utah State's Chuckie Keeton and Oregon State's Sean Mannion, Hundley is just another good quarterback in a litany of talented quarterbacks the Utes are facing this year.
Utah's defense has shown some uncharacteristic, but not unexpected, weaknesses thanks to a young secondary and linebacking corps.
The Utes statistically improved against BYU's Taysom Hill, holding the running quarterback to 99 yards on 20 carries. Hill struggled in the passing game, getting sacked five times and connecting on just 18 of his 48 passing attempts for 260 yards.
BYU crossed Utah's 20-yard line five times, but managed just one touchdown.
But did the Utes' defense improve that much or is Hill just a struggling quarterback?
Hundley, who is helping his team average 52.7 points a game, will certainly provide the answer and a much better marker for what the Utes can expect out of their defense in Pac-12 play.
The Bruins are just one of four Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 20 in scoring, a testament to the efficiency of the quarterbacks in the league.
"That is something about the Pac-12, it's loaded with talented quarterbacks and perimeter players," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We have to be ready defensively to bring our 'A' game every week. To compete we need to continue to get sacks and pressure the quarterback. If we win the line of scrimmage with our defensive line, we will be in pretty good shape."
Handling BYU's offense gave Utah a shot of much-needed confidence, said linebacker Jared Norris, but the Utes aren't overly confident as to not respect UCLA's offense.
"Everything is coming together," he said. "The corners are stepping up, that is the biggest thing. With the way Mike Honeycutt played off the edge [against BYU] and Keith McGill stepping up, I honestly think our defense is getting there. We haven't arrived, but we have a good defense."
The emergence of Honeycutt as a threat with blitzes is a wrinkle the Utes sorely needed. In the games previous to BYU, Utah's front got pressure on the quarterback but wasn't wrapping up quarterbacks.
Honeycutt sacked Hill twice, setting the tone early for Utah's defense.
Norris believes the Utes can use a similar tactic against Hundley.
"The main thing is keeping the quarterback contained," he said. "With UCLA coming up, we can use almost the same game plan. Keep the quarterback contained first and the skill receivers next."
It sounds like a solid game plan, as long as the Utes have the solid defense to execute it.
National Rank Team Avg.
No. 2 Oregon 61.3
No. 3 UCLA 52.7
No. 15 Arizona 43.7
No. 18 Washington 42.7
No. 20 Utah 42.0
No. 24 Oregon St. 41.0
No. 31 Colorado 39.5
No. 35 Arizona St. 38.3
No. 43 Stanford 36.7
No. 53 Cal 33.7
No. 61 Washington St. 31.0
No. 93 USC 22.3
UCLA at Utah
P Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1