SALT LAKE CITY — Listed at 6-foot-5 and 323 pounds, with envy-inducing locks of flowing black hair, Utah defensive lineman Leki Fotu is a hard man to miss.
Even with a helmet and full pads on, Fotu stands out among the men who make up the Utah defensive line.
He is one of the tallest linemen, trailing only 6-foot-6 Viane Moala, and outweighs the lot of them — 20 players in total — some by nearly 100 pounds.
Fotu, an intimidating sight for any opponent, was nowhere to be seen during the first half of Utah’s 28-24 loss at Washington State.
He was suspended for the first half of the game against the Cougars because of a targeting penalty during Utah’s 21-7 loss to Washington.
He couldn’t even be with his teammates on the sideline.
Players who are ejected must sit alone, uninformed in the locker room.
“It was weird, super weird,” said Fotu. “I have never had to sit out a half before. I just sat there not knowing how they (the Utes) were doing.”
How they were doing was interesting. The offense seemed to turn a corner in the first half, with Tyler Huntley rushing for two scores and Zack Moss another.
Defensively, however, things weren’t going so well.
Washington State quarterback Gardner Minshew II tore the Utes apart with three first-half touchdowns, with much of the blame falling on the defensive line.
It was a coaching strategy in which the Utes rushed only three linemen, on occasion two, in an attempt to have more players in coverage.
“Half of the game was five on three, just rushing three of us D-linemen, and we had to find a way,” defensive end Bradlee Anae said.
All too often they did not, and when the Utes returned to the locker room, the decision was made to change strategies. Instead of sticking with a three-man rush, Utah decided to go back to its base 4-2-5 defense.
The adjustment paid immediate dividends, as the Utes held Washington State to just one score after halftime, and their pressure on Minshew increased dramatically.
“That was something the coaches decided to change,” defensive tackle John Penisini said. “We were planning on rushing three the whole game, but they decided to change back to a 4-2 (defense) when Leki came in.”
“Defensively, we made an error,” coach Kyle Whittingham added. “Too much three-man rush. In retrospect, we should have let four guys loose more up front and not worried so much about exotic coverages.”
At the center of the change and defensive line improvement was Fotu.
“Leki is consistent with his play,” said Anae. “He is a big run stopper and — more importantly against a team like Washington State — he can push offensive linemen back and collapse the pocket.
“With him in, we had more pressure, we made the quarterback get off his game.”
“The rotation was back to normal. We had four down linemen again,” Penisini added. “Him coming back helped us. We were able to rush the quarterback every play.”Comment on this story
While grateful for the praise of his peers, the whole experience is something Fotu would rather not go through again anytime soon.
“It was weird sitting out the first half knowing I had to be ready to go out there and play,” he said. “It has all been very new for me, the suspension. I was able to come in pretty fresh and they came back at halftime and told me everything that I needed to know, what adjustments to make against the O-line. I just tried to help out in any way to get the W.”
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Utah (2-2, 0-2) at
No. 14 Stanford (4-1, 2-0)
Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
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