Next season, this will become Utah defensive end Bradlee Anae’s assignment every Sunday. He’ll trying to beat a big, athletic offensive tackle and sack an NFL quarterback.
He eventually may be competing against Penei Sewell and chasing Justin Herbert, although the current Oregon teammates likely will play for different pro teams. Anae will get a taste of that job description Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game at Santa Clara, Calif.
Thanks to an NCAA waiver that came through last week following his transfer from Nevada, Sewell's brother Nephi has been activated as a Utah safety, just in time for a reunion at Levi's Stadium. Oregon already beat Nevada senior linebacker Gabe Sewell Jr.'s team in September, 77-6. Their youngest brother, Noah, committed to Oregon in November as one of the country's top linebacker prospects after leading Orem to the Class 4A state championship.
Nephi Sewell can participate in whatever remains of Utah's season as a redshirting player, by NCAA rule, and will have two more years of eligibility.
Penei Sewell, who missed Oregon’s 32-25 loss at Utah in November 2018 due to injury, is Oregon’s sophomore left tackle and Herbert’s primary protector. He’s a finalist for the Outland Trophy, presented to the country’s top interior lineman, along with Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz and Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown. That makes Sewell the top offensive tackle, and such a description is indisputable, according to the Pro Football Focus evaluators.
He's “just extremely smart, super high football IQ; plays with tremendous power, balance and body control,” said Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, who formerly worked at Alabama. “I can honestly say he's the best one I've ever been around.”
In the 2017 recruiting class, Utah pursued the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Sewell at Desert Hills High School in St. George, where the family moved from American Samoa (and since has relocated to Orem). “We were in it until the every end — at least, we thought we were,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said this week.
Sewell is a four-time Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week this season and Oregon right tackle Calvin Throckmorton and left guard Shane Lemieux have been honored twice each. None of Utah’s offensive linemen has received the award. To validate Friday’s matchup, though, the Utes had a five-game run of defensive lineman awards — rotated among four players, with Anae recognized twice.
Nephi Sewell, who made four tackles as a special-teams player and defensive reserve in his Utah debut against Colorado last Saturday, will enjoy watching the competition up front. If facing Penei Sewell is a challenge for Anae, it works both ways. “I'm excited, because [Penei] has a great matchup this week,” Nephi said. “He'll be tested, to see where he's really at. Honestly, it'll be a platform for him to showcase his skills, and Brad to show what he can do against an elite tackle. It should be fun.”
Anae said, “I like playing against people that can match you, so it's that much more fun. … You respect other players for how they play.”
Anae is second in the Pac-12 with 12½ sacks this season has tied Utah's career record with 29½ sacks. He made Pro Football Focus' Pac-12 Team of the Year. Sewell, though, is a PFF All-American.
“Sewell's sophomore campaign has been nothing short of dominant,” PFF said, noting that he leads all offensive tackles in run-blocking and overall grades “by some margin.” He has allowed only six pressures and no sacks on 436 pass-blocking snaps.
The question becomes whether Utah should have Anae, as productive as he is, consistently line up against Sewell. Without being prompted, Whittingham mentioned that ends Mika Tafua and Maxs Tupai also would go against Sewell.
In any case, Oregon’s offensive line won’t resemble the group that played against Utah last season — especially in the first half. Sewell was sidelined and Oregon center Jake Hanson was suspended for a half due to a targeting penalty in the previous game, Utah exploited the Ducks’ makeshift line by pressuring Herbert and taking a 19-7 halftime lead.
Oregon improved markedly when Hanson played in the second half, moving in front 25-22 before the Utes rallied behind fill-in quarterback Jason Shelley and running back Armand Shyne.
Hanson has been injured lately but will play Friday, Cristobal said. Sewell remains his imposing self, with “the moves of a much smaller man but the strength of a much bigger one,” as PFF said.
That's why Sewell was so heavily recruited, choosing Oregon over USC, Alabama, Utah and many other schools in 2017. From Oregon's perspective, Cristobal said, “The process gave me more gray hair than anything I've experienced in my life. The process almost caused me cardiac arrest.”
Sewell became a Duck, though. This week, he’s Utah’s problem.
NO. 5 UTAH VS. NO. 13 OREGON
When • Friday, 6 p.m. MST
TV • Ch. 4.