SALT LAKE CITY — As has been well documented, Marquise Blair suffered a season-ending lower leg injury in the Utes' Week 10 game against UCLA last year after having been one of the premier defensive players on the team.
Throughout the offseason, the Ohio native diligently attacked his rehab, all so that he could return to the field in time for the 2018 season opener.
Blair didn’t disappoint in his return Thursday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
It took all of one play in the Utes’ opener against Weber State for him to announce his return to college football.
On the opening play from scrimmage, Weber State quarterback Kaden Jenks rushed up the middle of the Utah defense untouched — that is until he came face-to-face with the strong safety.
Blair dropped Jenks in his patented hard-hitting fashion, limiting the quarterback to a 5-yard gain.
“It felt good,” Blair said with a smile. “I was just happy to be out there.”
Blair's hit was the first of many he made.
He totaled three tackles, along with two pass breakups, helping the Ute secondary hold the Wildcats to just 13 total yards through the air.
Also involved in that endeavor were Julian Blackmon (one tackle and two PBU’s) and Jaylon Johnson (a tackle).
“The secondary, tonight anyway, was as advertised,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I don’t know what (Jenks’) numbers were, but they weren’t good. The secondary made play after play back there. (Weber State) just couldn't fit the ball in anywhere. There was nowhere for them to go. You saw Marquise Blair make some great plays, Julian Blackmon made some great plays and so did Jaylon Johnson.”
“Those guys tonight were what we need them to be. Obviously the degree of difficulty goes up from here, but you saw them perform.”
Truth be told, Blair and the Utah secondary were just part of what was a thoroughly dominant defensive unit.
The Ute defense was practically impenetrable, in all facets, all night long. Weber State totaled just 61 yards in the contest, the third-lowest yardage output of any opponent in Utah's history.
At one point, Weber State went three-and-out on six consecutive possessions, not counting a knee Jenks took to end the first half.
All told, the Wildcats were forced to punt 12 times and managed to run five or more plays on just two possessions.
“I’m very pleased with how the defense played, from start to finish,” Whittingham said. “They were lights out. We should have controlled that game and we did. That was good to see.”
In addition to the secondary, Utah benefitted from stellar performances along the defensive line, namely the outings of John Penisini, who had a career-high six tackles, and Bradlee Anae, who finished with four tackles and two PBU’s.
Then there was the duo of starting linebackers, Chase Hansen and Cody Barton, who finished with four and two tackles, respectively (Hansen also managed to record two tackles for a loss).2 comments on this story
“Those two inside backers are tough, (Cody) Barton and Chase Hansen,” said Whittingham. “I think you saw what Chase Hansen's comfort level at backer was tonight. He was in his element.”
The entire defense was in its element against the Wildcats, and as far as Weber State head coach Jay Hill is concerned, after what he saw Thursday night, Utah’s defense should continue to excel all season long.
“That’s as good a defense as anybody is going to play this year, in my opinion,” said Hill. “That’s an elite, big-time, Pac-12 defense. Not just a good defense, that’s one of the elite ones in the country.”