SALT LAKE CITY — One of the unanswered questions for the Utah football team before the season was how the Utes' young defense would perform after losing seven starters from last year's team.
The Ute "D" answered with a solid performance, capped off by a brilliant play in overtime by a true freshman that turned out to be the difference in the game.
As quarterback Jordan Wynn put it, "The defense kept us in the game and bailed us out."
It was quarterback-turned-safety Brian Blechen who made a diving interception on the first play of overtime, taking the pressure off the Ute offense, which then won the game on Joe Phillips chip-shot field goal.
"Brian made the huge play — you could say that was the game right there," said coach Kyle Whittingham. "Brian played very well — he made some mistakes that a true freshman will — but he responded well and really did a nice job tonight."
Blechen said he was happy with his first collegiate game on the whole, particularly the big interception.
"The quarterback just rolled out and went to the flat ... when I saw that happen, I just went and tried to get to the right spot. I looked up and he was throwing it," he said.
While the Ute offense sputtered at times and made several mistakes, the defense was stout most of the night in holding the Panthers to just 266 total yards and star running back Dion Lewis to just 75 yards on 25 carries.
"Our defense did a nice job on the back in holding him to three yards a carry," said Whittingham. "We felt if we kept him under 100 yards, we'd have done a nice job."
Chaz Walker, filling in for injured J.J. Williams at linebacker, led the Ute defense with 11 tackles on the night, including one tackle for a loss. Junior Tui'one and Latu Heimuli each had a sack in the game.
"We just stuck to our assignments and everybody did their job and put me in position to make plays," said Walker, a junior from Davis High School. "I've got to thank the four men up front for hounding the quarterback all night."
After giving up 77 yards in the first quarter, the Ute defense shut down the Panthers' offense the next two quarters, allowing just 29 yards in the second quarter and only 31 in the third.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers made more yards than they had in the previous three quarters, thanks in large part to a 44-yard pass from Tino Sunseri to Jon Baldwin, when Brandon Burton didn't get help from behind from the safeties.
That made it 24-21 and the Panthers had a chance to win in regulation, but the Ute defense stepped up again and held Pitt to a 30-yard field goal as time ran out.
"I'm very proud of our young defense," said Whittingham. "They got put in some bad situations, but stepped up and made a lot of big plays and responded very well."