Bradlee Anae stacks up to Utes’ all-time best in sacks, but senior defensive end wants more

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive end Bradlee Anae (6), Utah Utes defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) and Utah Utes defensive end Mika Tafua (42) sack Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Steven Montez (12), in PAC-12 football action between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Bradlee Anae had so many leis layered around his neck as he walked into Rice-Eccles Stadium for his final game as a Ute, they looked like a horse collar.

“I couldn’t even breathe,” Anae said.

Now he knows how opposing quarterbacks feel.

On Saturday, the 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end twice pounced on Colorado signal-caller Steven Montez during a 38-15 Utes victory. On the first, it took Anae less than five seconds to brush off his blocker and pounce on Montez from behind for a loss of 4 yards, forcing the charging Buffs to punt. He terrorized Montez again in the third quarter alongside teammate Devin Lloyd, which also resulted in a punt.

With those 1.5 sacks, Anae brought his career total up to 29.5, tying Hunter Dimick (2013-16) for the school’s career record.

Just as Anae far outpaced any of the other 18 seniors in terms of leis, however, he made it clear he’s not content sharing the sacks record. Though he got emotional a few weeks back when teammate and fellow senior Zack Moss secured the career rushing record, Anae showed no such raw feelings after Saturday’s game.

“Tying it doesn’t really do it for me,” Anae said. “I wanted to break it, but I’ve got more opportunities, so I’m just blessed and grateful for that.”

Thanks to Saturday’s win, he’ll have at least two more chances. The Utes (11-1, 8-1) clinched the Pac-12 South title and will play Oregon on Friday in the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Utah is also guaranteed a bowl berth, though it’s possible a conference championship could boost the No. 6-ranked team into the top four and allow them a shot at the national title. That would give Anae three more chances to break the deadlock.

Not that he’ll need that many.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes defensive end Bradlee Anae (6) greets the fans after the Utes defeated the Wildcats, 35-7, in PAC-12 action between the Utah Utes and the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019.

Anae recorded seven sacks as a sophomore and eight as a junior. This year he has averaged a little more than a sack per game, tying him for fifth in the NCAA. Saturday’s performance should move him into fourth in the nation in total sacks on the season (12.5) and third in sack yards (90).

“He’s a great pass rusher and he’s destined for the National Football League and you’ll be watching him play for a lot of years,” coach Kyle Whittingham said.

So it’s not a question of if, really, as much as when. Still, Anae is under some pressure to put his sack number as high as possible. If he doesn’t, he might not hold the record for long.

One player who could take it down is sophomore defensive end Mika Tafua. Tafua also recorded 1.5 sacks Saturday night in addition to five tackles, 2.5 of which went for loss. He has three sacks in his career for 27 yards.

And it just so happens Tafua hails from the same small Hawaiian city as Anae — Laie, population 6,100, on the island of Oahu. Apparently, those islanders know how to stack up sacks as well as leis.

“That’s how they do it in Hawaii,” Anae said. “It helps you smell good.”