Walking into Utah’s football practice Thursday, I immediately witnessed a phenomenon. A pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage, fluttered through the air and was caught by Ute nickel back Justin Thomas, who made a diving interception.
Something like that occurred only three times in Ute games last season — from a defensive perspective, anyway. Michael Walker’s fourth-quarter interception at BYU came on a critical fourth-down play, although he probably should have deflected the ball and improved the Utes’ field position. Keith McGill turned his interception against UCLA into a touchdown. Trevor Reilly clinched the season-ending victory over Colorado with a pickoff, then fired the football into the south stands of Rice-Eccles Stadium.
So all three interceptions were highly memorable. Then again, there were only three of them. As that play in Thursday’s practice illustrated, Utah should have had more interceptions just by accident, with opponents attempting 443 passes.
The Utes tied with Illinois, Temple, Texas-El Paso and Kentucky for last place in interceptions among the 123 FBS schools. Thanks largely to Reilly, the Utes recovered 12 fumbles, a relatively high number.
Conversely, the Ute offense lost only four fumbles, while throwing 21 interceptions. That gave Utah a minus-10 turnover ratio for the season, which becomes a point of emphasis for both the offense and defense in 2014.
"The glaring negative was the lack of interceptions," said defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, summarizing his group’s performance in 2013. "We had our opportunities, we just didn’t capitalize on it. You work on it, but you don’t want to make it a hindrance by saying everything’s riding on it."
The Utes ranked among the national leaders with 39 sacks. "With the pressure that we got on quarterbacks … if we get those picks, I think we’ll be a lot better defensively."
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