Utah Utes football: Utes trying to live up to expectations on defense
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — While Utah's offensive struggles have been well documented, the defense hasn't had much to say about it. That's because the Utes on that side of the ball adhere to a specific philosophy when it comes to such things. Their focus is on stopping the opposition.
"If you don't want to lose then shut them out or shut your mouth because that's the way we operate here," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We have high expectations for our defense here — always have, always will — and that is the mentality."
The Utes take it to heart.
"What we're taught is to just do our best as far as shutting the team out. If the offense gets up it's like the whole defense expects to make those stops. So it's like it's on our back," said defensive lineman Dave Kruger. "We try to put everything on our back as far as winning the game, just because that's how our mentality is."
Linebacker Chaz Walker acknowledged it's a big deal.
"If they don't score they can't win and so taking on that mentality as a defense is huge for us," he said. "We try to live up to that each and every week, even though it's a hard thing to do."
Even so, things are going well — despite short fields and a lot of time on the field.
Utah's defense enters Saturday's game with Oregon State ranked highly in several categories. The Utes are third in the Pac-12 in rushing defense (99.43 ypg), pass efficiency defense (120.77 rating), total defense (334.57 ypg) and scoring defense (22.43 ppg). They're fourth in passing defense (235.14 ypg).
"Whether the offense puts up 30 points or no points, to us it doesn't matter. If the scoreboard wasn't there we're going to go out and play the same way every time," said safety Brian Blechen. "It's our goal to shut them out or we don't have anything to say."
The offense, meanwhile, is determined to make things easier for the entire team by cutting down on turnovers. Utah has already thrown nine interceptions and lost eight fumbles this season.
"Turning the ball over is still our biggest issue — definitely the No. 1 issue," said wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, who noted that things will improve once the offense figures out how to possess the football.
"The defense has been playing out of their minds," Christopher said. "We've just got to pick them up more."
Christopher added that the offense needs to do a better job sustaining drives and picking up first downs to give the defense more rest.
Time-of-possession has been an accurate measuring stick for the Utes in their first seven games. They're 3-0 when winning that battle and 0-4 when falling short.
"We obviously have a lot of work to do and corrections to make, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. The first order of business is to stop turning the ball over and to be more productive in the red zone," Whittingham said in the program's weekly press release. "Defensively, we need to create more takeaways and provide the offense with more short-field situations."
The Utes are unified in their resolve to turn things around.
"Everyone's keeping their heads high," Kruger said. "This is really when you've got to dig in and focus on getting the next win."
Sticking together, he continued, is a key to getting things fixed.
"If you're going to be determined and competitive it's going to be a good outcome for you. If you're going to keep your head down and just mope about it then of course you're going to go into that game as a loser already," Kruger said. "We need to step up, the leaders need to step up. I think we need to get everybody's heads up and just go full-speed into this week."
Utes on the air
Oregon State (2-5, 2-2) at Utah (3-4, 0-4)
Saturday, 5 p.m.
Radio: 700 AM
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