At the outset of the year, the University of Utah planned to play a basic 3-4 defense, but it hasn't worked out that way. Most of the time, the Utes play what they call a 40 package, which utilizes a four-man front, two linebackers and five defensive backs.
"We started with the basic 3-4 concept," says defensive coordinator Greg McMackin, "but it has evolved to using the 40 package about 98 percent of the time because of our personnel."McMackin elaborates: "It does two things: 1) We're more flexible and 2) It gives us faster guys to play with. Usually defensive backs are quicker. Our personnel fits well with the 40 defense, because we have good linemen, our linebackers can make the plays because almost everyone is covered, and you can use anything from an eight-man front to maximum (pass) coverage. There's another plus, too. A lot of teams bring in extra receivers; we always have our people on the field (to defend them). Most teams that play with five defensive backs take them out in running situations. We don't have to do that. We're flexible. The offense doesn't know what we're doing because we're the same either way - we have all our people on the field. It doesn't mean we're playing the pass or the run."
The defense depends heavily upon having safeties who can provide strong run support - players such as Sharrieff Shah, Emanuel Powell, Sean Knox and reserve Bob Bonifacio. "Even though we have five defensive backs out there, they are linebacker-types," says McMackin. "They can hit. They're the 190-pound hitting-type of defensive backs. Really they're faster linebackers."
The way the 40 defense is supposed to work - and other defenses as well - the linemen tie up blockers so the linebackers can make the plays and the safeties can provide support. That's precisely the way it has worked for Utah. The two linebackers, Anthony Davis and Pita Tonga, lead the team in tackles, with 50 and 36, respectively. Then come, in order, the three safeties - Powell , Knox and Shah - followed by three linemen - Dave Chaytors , Jimmy Bellamy and Greg Reynolds .
NO OFFENSE: Perhaps no one should be surprised by Utah's poor showing on offense this season. Coach Ron McBride seemed to see it coming. Before the season began, he told reporters that the Utes had concentrated their recruiting efforts on rebuilding the defense. Junior college transfers Anthony Davis, Jimmy Bellamy and Keith Embray have all played major roles on the defense this season, but not a single new player starts on offense. The only newcomer who contributes significantly to the offense is wideout Sean Hutson, a JC transfer who leads the team in receiving with 14 catches.
IF YOU WANT IT DONE RIGHT . . . : In response to Utah's offensive problems, McBride has decided to take action personally. He says he will spend more time actually coaching on the practice field - a rarity for major college head coaches these days. He will work with the offensive line.
"I have 30 years of experience (as an offensive line coach)," he says. "Maybe I can help."
STATUS QUO: Last spring, much was made of the signing of Vince Lobendahn, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound defensive tackle and former Marine/bodybuilder. So far, Lobendahn has made five tackles, three hurries and one blocked field goal. He's playing in a reserve role as the third defensive tackle behind Chaytors and Reynolds.
"He's only played one year of football, and he's a sophomore," says McMackin. "He's got all kinds of talent. He just needs more reps. He's young in the game. We've been using him in key situations, and he's been doing a good job."
INJURY UPDATE: Mark Swanson, a starting cornerback who missed last week's Hawaii game with a sprained knee, will be ready to play this weekend, but he won't start. Derrick Odum, a starter last year, filled in well for Swanson last week and will start again this week. He will split time with Swanson.
Mike DeHoog, a starting guard who was taken from the field on a cart during the Hawaii game, is expected to be ready to play this week. He sprained an ankle. James McKenna, the other starting guard, has a sprained neck and is listed as questionable.