Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd wants Utah’s defense to ‘start fast’ against Oregon State

But first-half defensive struggles haven’t cost the Utes in Pac-12 play yet.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes cornerback Clark Phillips III (8) celebrates the defensive play of teammate Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (0) who held back Arizona State Sun Devils running back DeaMonte Trayanum (1) as the University of Utah hosts the Arizona Sun Devils in Pac-12 action at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Oct. 10, 2021.

The University of Utah football team has ratcheted up its second-half defense in a big way lately.

The most recent example came last Saturday when the Utes didn’t allow Arizona State to score a single point in the third and fourth quarters en route to a 35-21 comeback win. The team, however, gave up a less-than-ideal 385 total yards.

In the win against the USC Trojans, the Utes gave up nearly 500 total yards, but forced three punts and grabbed an interception in the second half.

The Utes are the only undefeated team left in the Pac 12. To stay that way, their defense will likely have to show up for all four quarters going forward instead of just two. Even junior linebacker Devin Lloyd thinks so.

Lloyd said teams “come out fast, come out strong” offensively against Utah, and the defense adjusts to that aggressiveness as the game goes on.

“But we have to just make a point of emphasis to start fast,” Lloyd added Tuesday after practice. “We always finish strong, but [we] really just [need to] start fast and keep it going throughout the whole game.”

It’s difficult to cast aspersions on a Utah team that has a solid chance of winning the entire conference and is being led by Cam Rising on offense and Lloyd on defense. And the Utes will put their streak to the test Saturday against an Oregon State team with the best rushing offense in conference play (291 yards per game).

The challenge Oregon State presents is part of the reason why looking at Utah’s overall defense matters. But the Utes don’t seem concerned one iota about the trend.

“I think we are playing good defense overall,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “Just so happens to be that we’re playing a little better in the second half than the first right now. But we’re not really concerned about that. We’re just concerned with the final product and the final result.”

Freshman cornerback Clark Phillips III put a positive spin on Utah’s stronger defense in second halves.

“The whole team, we have a lot of grit,” Phillips said. “The fact that we’re able to storm back in many games I can think of now just shows the team chemistry, the team grit. We all believe in and trust in each other.”

Fourth quarters have been especially good for the Utes defensively. In six games, they have outscored opponents 73-26 in the final frame alone.

In addition, Utah’s defense has tightened up its run defense specifically. It held opponents to 161.7 rushing yards per game in the first three games, and 103.3 in the last three.

It’s all part of an evolution that the Utes have seen since the first game of the season up until this point. Linebackers coach Colton Swan said he’s seen a lot of growth from the defense.

“There’s times you look out there on the defensive side, you see a lot of young players,” Swan said. “Growth and experience, it comes with a lot of reps and as you can see as the season goes on the these younger guys are getting reps.”