SALT LAKE CITY — As he prepared for his team's game against Utah, Oregon State coach Mike Riley noticed that the Utes were perhaps the best defense the Beavers had faced.
He wasn't kidding or blowing smoke.
That became quite obvious during Utah's dominating 27-8 win.
While picking up a Pac-12 validation victory, the Ute defense also validated the coach's compliment by harassing and hampering Oregon State's offense for the majority of 60 minutes.
"Our defense," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, "played very well, start to finish."
He wasn't kidding, either.
Six sacks. Four turnovers, including three picks. Seven pass breakups. Only 32 yards rushing allowed.
And three quarters of shutout football.
"I knew it was going to be hard," Riley said after his team's loss at Rice-Eccles Stadium. "I saw other teams having a hard time against that defensive front. ... They're very, very physical."
Especially that U. front seven, which eliminated the Beavers' rushing attack and made life extremely difficult on OSU's redshirt freshman quarterback, Sean Mannion.
"Our goal as a defensive line," senior Tevita Finau explained, "was to get pressure."
They got that — and the defensive lineman got a sack hat trick in the process.
Those sacks, the first three of Finau's career, backed the Beavers up a combined 29 yards.
Brian Blechen and Dave Fagergren also got to Mannion in the pocket, while Matt Martinez and Derrick Shelby were credited with a half sack each.
"They paid more attention to Star (Lotulelei) and Shelby," Finau said, deflecting personal postgame attention. "I was just out there running around — right place, right time."
The defensive front seven played so well against Oregon State's big boys, the Utes didn't have to blitz as often as they normally do. Whittingham said the D was "sound" and used "good technique" as well.
Whittingham lauded Finau's efforts — "He popped through," the coach said — and credited the Krugers (Joe and Dave), Lotulelei, Trevor Reilly and Nai Fotu by name for making life difficult on OSU's offense.
Linebacker Chaz Walker topped the Utes in tackles with 11, marking the fourth time he's hit double figures this season.
Martinez, Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy also picked off Mannion, who completed 27 of 49 passes for 231 yards (about 50 below his average).
Overall, the Beavers were limited to only 263 yards of offense. OSU came in averaging 410 yards and hadn't scored less than 19 points since getting shut out by Wisconsin, 35-0, in Week 2.
Whittingham seemed almost disappointed that Utah hadn't handed Oregon State their second shutout. But a late hit on a missed field goal gave the Beavers a second chance they capitalized on in Utah's red zone to begin the fourth quarter.
Utah's coach will happily settle for an eight-point defensive masterpiece in the Utes' first win in their new conference.
A goal-line stand and forced fumble in the fourth quarter that foiled an OSU comeback attempt were among the highlights.4 comments on this story
"It was in the air. You could feel it," Blechen said. "Everybody was focused. You could see it in your teammates' eyes ... You could see the fire."
Just ask Oregon State's coach.