Utah Utes football notebook: D-line, secondary shine; O-line struggles
SALT LAKE CITY — When your offensive line gives up 11 sacks, it's never a good thing. Unless it's your defense doing the sacking.
That's how the Utah football coaches had to look at Tuesday's scrimmage at Rice Eccles Stadium, sort of a good news/bad news type of thing.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said his offensive line is not very good at pass protecting right now. On the other hand, he's pleased with the play of his defensive line and defensive secondary.
"The defensive line has talent and we've got some good pass rushers up front," said Whittingham, who praised the play of the Kruger brothers, Joe and Dave, along with freshman Nate Fakahafua and Michigan State transfer David Rolf.. "The guys that got opportunities today played well."
Rolf led the way with three sacks, while Joe Kruger had two along with senior Derrick Shelby. Others who helped out on sacks were Tevita Finau and linebackers Nai Fotu, Dave Fagregren and Jacoby Hale. Perhaps the Utes' top D-lineman, Star Lotuleilei, sat out of the scrimmage.
As for the secondary, Whittingham said, "Our defensive secondary is doing a pretty good job of covering. So far they appear to be a strength. They're playing good football back there."
Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake was pleased with his defense's performance overall and said the defensive line was the strength of the team right now, but preferred not to single any defenders out.
"For the most part, I thought we got the reps to the right guys and got a good look at some of the younger guys," he said. "We've got to clean up some stuff technique-wise and we've got a lot of things to work on, but I like the way our guys are running around."
Ute quarterback Jordan Wynn, who was running for his life all morning, praised the Ute defense.
"It's a top-15 defense," said Wynn. "Every day we're playing against a top-15 defense, so it's a big challenge for us. It's gets us to work and it's a good matchup every day."
NO EXCUSES: When someone mentioned the injuries the offensive line has suffered this year — starter Sam Brenner and backups Percy Taumoelau, Daniel Nielsen and Latu Heimuli are all hobbling — may have been the reason for the poor pass-blocking Tuesday, Whittingham wasn't biting.
"Whoever is in there has got to play," he said. "Nobody cares if you're hurt. There are players all over the country who are hurt. You've got to modify your schemes and get it done. There's never any excuse."
KICKING WOES: For the last several years, the Utes have had little to worry about in the placekicking game, with Louie Sakoda and Joe Phillips making more than 80 percent of their field goal kicks.
This year, it's not going as well so far.
Earlier, Whittingham said Tuesday's scrimmage could help determine who the Utes' placekicker will be. But after a below-average performance Tuesday, Whittingham said it is still up in the air between Nick Marsh, a scholarship player from California who handled kickoffs last year, and Coleman Peterson, a walk-on from Brighton High School.
Peterson made 4-of-5 five field goal tries, but missed on a 26-yarder. Meanwhile, Marsh missed all four of his field goal tries from 28, 36, 44 and 51 yards as well as a PAT in the red zone drill.
"Another Achilles heel of ours right now is the placekicking," said Whittingham. "It's still not where it's supposed to be. If we had to kick today, it would be Coleman Peterson, but there's still a lot of kicks to be had between now and when we line up."
UTE NOTES: The Utes' third scrimmage of fall camp will be Saturday, which will mark the end of two-a-days. ... Linebacker Brian Blechen picked off a Wynn pass near the end of practice and returned it 20 yards. ... After a poor first scrimmage when he had three passes picked off, backup QB Jon Hays played much better Tuesday, going 9-for-10 with no interceptions. ... Mike Honeycutt, Michael Walker, Lei Talamaivao and Mo Lee all had pass breakups in the scrimmage.
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