Utah linebacker Kepa Gaison said it was a week to "redeem ourselves." Seven days after giving up 217 yards on the ground in a loss at Oregon, the Utes were determined to turn things around in their homecoming game against Louisville.
In Saturday's 30-14 victory over the Cardinals, the defense allowed just 80 yards rushing, on an average of 2.3 yards per carry.
"The run defense struggled last week so we knew we would be successful if everyone did their assignment," Gaison said. "We knew we could have played a lot better. We came out and played a complete game and made some big plays."
Utah held Louisville scoreless until midway through the third quarter. The Utes recorded four sacks, recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass.
Gaison said it was like the defense picked up where it left off last year.
"Our defense has a lot more to show as the season goes on," he continued. "We're going to show it even more."
The Utes racked up some impressive numbers against Louisville. Contributions were widespread — 10 defenders teamed on nine tackles-for-loss and five combined on six pass breakups.
Koa Misi and Gaison shared team-high honor with seven tackles apiece. Stevenson Sylvester finished with six and four others had five.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said it was a "return to basics mentality" by the defense.
"We played straight up and our defensive front seven did a very nice job," he explained while noting that everyone responded exactly how they wanted them to. "They answered the bell."
The real key, Whittingham pointed out, was the three takeaways in the first half.
"That really set the tone," he said.
Fumble recoveries by Robert Johnson and Dave Kruger, as well as an interception by Mike Wright, helped Utah build a 20-0 lead over the first two quarters.
"Any time you can win the turnover battle . . . you will put yourself in position to be successful," Whittingham said. "We also had a lot of key plays."
One of the most pivotal came at the end of Louisville's first possession when R.J. Stanford blocked a 25-yard field goal attempt.14 comments on this story
"To have them come away with nothing there was big," Whittingham said.
Another big variable was Utah's ability to overcome an abundance of injuries. The offense spent a majority of the game without running back Matt Asiata (torn ACL) and left tackle Zane Beadles (leg contusion).
"Guys are going down and our backups are picking up the slack," said Whittingham, who added that there was a lot of excellent play by guys thrust into starting roles.
Eddie Wide stepped in for Asiata and netted 129 yards on 19 carries.