The TribUte is a weekly newsletter covering Utah athletics. Subscribe here.
If the University of Utah had a full football season in 2020, maybe Devin Lloyd would have had at least 12 games worth of film, and maybe he wouldn’t have come back this fall.
Maybe those 12 games (or 13, or 14) would have yielded enough quality film that the second and third-round NFL draft grades he was receiving after just five games would have been higher. Maybe, that would have been enough to push him out the door.
None of that happened.
Lloyd had five games last season. He had second- and third-round grades, and while he was already leaning towards returning for one more run, former Utes standout linebacker Cody Barton famously helped that decision along, breaking down the financial aspect of things.
“I can remember vividly what Cody said,” Lloyd said in March during spring practice. “The way he put it was, ‘Would you rather have somebody give you $1 million right now or $5 million a year from now?’”
There was also the matter of getting over the hump and winning a Pac-12 championship, Lloyd and a host of other teammates having lost in the title game in 2018 and 2019.
Whatever ultimately drove Lloyd back to Salt Lake City for another season, the Utes, not to mention their fervent fan base, are better off for it.
His play this season almost goes under-the-radar, almost qualifies as underappreciated, because what he’s doing is expected at this point. Lloyd’s 62 tackles lead Utah, while his 10.2 tackles per game rank second in the Pac-12. He has four sacks, a pair of interceptions, has forced a fumble, and is heading towards contention for the Butkus Award, given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Lloyd was a finalist for that honor last season.
He can play middle linebacker in the traditional sense, but he has also been seen coming off the edge at various times this fall. Lloyd, very clearly, plays sideline-to-sideline at times and does whatever is asked of him, which, frankly, is a lot.
“What makes him a good football player is just a myriad of things,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s got great size, nearly 6-3, pushing 240 pounds, he runs like a deer, he’s instinctive, he’s got a long wingspan. You see him tip balls quite often, he’s gotten his hands on two or three balls this year.
“He’s a playmaker. He’s a guy that when there’s a play to be made, he almost always makes it. He is an absolute football junkie and student of the game. He watches as much film over the course of the week as anyone we’ve had here.”
Not bad for a guy who played safety, wide receiver, and punter(!) in high school.
What’s on my mind, Utah or otherwise
• As I reported on Wednesday, Farmington star guard Collin Chandler, a top-40 recruit in the class of 2022, will take an official visit to BYU this weekend, which will coincide with the Cougars’ Midnight Madness event Friday night at the Marriott Center. Chandler, who has already taken official visits to Stanford, Arizona and Oregon, is slated to visit Utah over Halloween weekend. Indications from multiple sources at this point are that Utah and Stanford are out front in this recruitment, but Chandler and his family remain willing to listen to BYU, whose staff has continued to be aggressive with Big 12 membership now part of the pitch. This is where I remind everyone that Chandler is an LDS kid, who plans to take his mission right out of high school. That means his college career wouldn’t start until 2023-24. Best educated guess as to where this ends up with a November commitment looming? Utah.
• Utah will not officially clinch the Pac-12 South title over the next two weeks, but it may put a proverbial hammerlock on the division in that time. If the Utes beat Oregon State on Saturday, then defeat UCLA to get to 5-0, they will have at least a one-game lead plus the tiebreaker over Arizona State, and a two, potentially three-game lead over UCLA, plus that tiebreaker as well. Things are lining up for the Utes to play in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas, but they have to get there first. This is where I remind everyone that since the Pac-12 went to divisions in 2011, no South team has gone 9-0.
• Utah has not yet received word on whether or not Both Gach will be immediately eligible this winter after transferring back here from the University of Minnesota. With that, the fourth-year junior is not expected to play Saturday morning when the Utes host Wyoming for a ‘secret scrimmage’ at the Huntsman Center. The NCAA rarely has any real rhyme or reason as to why waivers are approved or turned down, but if you look around the country at two-time transfers getting eligibility waivers OK’d, Gach should probably wind up getting the green light, too.
• It is hard to envision Nick Rolovich being hired to run a major college football program again, and it is genuinely impossible to envision an athletic department handing him $3.2 million per year again. Rolovich did a good job of torpedoing his career over the last few months, and the worst part of it is, his actions not only affected his career, but the respective careers of his entire staff and their families. Not great.
• Maybe not a big deal, but it got my attention. UCLA is hosting College GameDay on Saturday morning, not at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but on campus in Westwood. Bruins athletic director Martin Jarmond tweeted out a graphic Wednesday offering a free ticket vs. No. 10 Oregon later in the day to any UCLA student, faculty or staff member who attends GameDay. UCLA is giving away tickets to a critical game against a name-brand opponent. For what it’s worth, UCLA is averaging just over 48,000 fans across four home games, highlighted by 68,123 to watch the Bruins beat LSU on Sept. 4.
• Utah’s offensive line had its problems early in the season, and the running back depth chart had been a bit of a merry-go-round until recently, but through all of it, the Utes are still averaging 175.3 rushing yards per game, good for fifth in the Pac-12. More specifically, Tavion Thomas, Micah Bernard and TJ Pledger have combined to average 6.1 yards on 132 carries, which represents nearly 70% of all rushes this season. Not bad.