University of Utah defensive ends Van Fillinger and Xavior Carlton started their career as Utes in the middle of a pandemic-shortened 2020 season. But after Fillinger played all five games and Carlton four, they proved capable of making an impact and getting consistent minutes in 2021 after the departure of Maxs Tupai.
Fillinger started last week against Weber State, with Carlton right behind him. Carlton picked up three tackles and a sack, while Fillinger nabbed two tackles of his own. The pair’s Week 1 performance had coach Kyle Whittingham pleased with what he saw.
“They both played well and they’ll both continue to get reps,” Whittingham said. “They’re essentially 1 and 1A at that position opposite Mika [Tafua].”
Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley also liked how Fillinger and Carlton played against the Wildcats. He said that first game was a good learning experience for them.
Scalley also pointed to what each player brings to the table that makes him special.
“The length causes issues for people with [Xavier] and Van has got a little bit more quickness off the edge,” Scalley said. “So they both have their unique talents.”
Fillinger, a former four-star recruit out of Corner Canyon High School, said he realized that he felt a lot more comfortable on the field than he did last season. He called the difference between the two “night and day.”
“I felt like I belonged out there,” Fillinger said. “I felt like I could compete at that level.”
Carlton, who spent most of his high school years at Juan Diego and is also a former four-star recruit, had easily the best game of his college career so far against Weber State — and he did that despite admitting to feeling a significant amount of nerves.
But Carlton wasn’t satisfied with his performance.
“I could’ve had more, honestly,” Carlton said of his tackles and sacks.
Fillinger and Carlton, along with the rest of the defense, will have to contend with BYU quarterback Jaren Hall and running back Tyler Allgeier on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo. The Cougars duo combined for three touchdowns in their win against Arizona. Hall had two passing scores, while Allgeier had one rushing.
But the biggest focus for the Utah defense is what Hall and Allgeier can do on the ground.
“You have to stop the run,” Scalley said. “That’s a big challenge this week.”
Fillinger said Hall, who is adept at running the ball, is a difficult player to take down. Carlton added that when BYU runs the ball, the Cougars like to use the outside to gain their advantage.
“We have to protect the outside because they love to run the ball,” Carlton said.
The Utes, though, think their defense has what it takes to stifle BYU’s offense. The key? Attitude.
“We’re going to try to be nasty, relentless,” Fillinger said. “We’re going to try to give it everything we got and just punch them in the mouth — respectfully. We’re going to go hard and just try to outwork them and be physical.”