Ute safety Julian Blackmon and yet another defensive lineman earn Pac-12 awards

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) brings down Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) as Brigham Young University (BYU) hosts the University of Utah, NCAA football in Provo on Thursday Aug. 29, 2019.

Utah safety Julian Blackmon’s high-impact game Saturday vs. UCLA made him an easy choice to be the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week. Even more remarkable is a different Ute being named the conference’s Defensive Lineman of the Week for the fourth straight game, with all four starters having been recognized.

Sophomore end Mika Tafua followed Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu and John Penisini in the Pac-12′s weekly honors, announced Monday, after making five tackles (including one for a 2-yard loss) and returning a fumble 68 yards for a touchdown in a 49-3 victory. The recovery was Tafua’s fourth of the season, tying him for the national lead; the rest of the team has three recoveries. This one came at a critical moment, with the Utes leading 14-3 late in the second quarter and UCLA having driven to the Utah 12-yard line.

That’s where Blackmon came into play, in a big way. The senior safety was credited with a forced fumble leading to Tafua’s touchdown, as Blackmon and linebacker Francis Bernard blitzed up the middle and made UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson retreat and drop the ball.

Earlier, Blackmon intercepted a pass in the end zone for his team-high fourth pick of the season (he’s tied for ninth place nationally). Blackmon finished with 12 tackles, including nine solo stops and 1½ sacks.

Blackmon, one of five Ute defensive players already committed to play in the Senior Bowl, has thrived this year after moving from cornerback. He noticeably has become an excellent tackler in the open field.

The Pac-12 honors for Blackmon and Tafua are the ninth and 10 awards of the season for Utah players, through 10 games.

The Pro Football Focus graders named Blackmon to their national defensive team of the week and Ute tight end Brant Kuithe made the offensive team.