Oct 12, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Stanford Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan (8) fumbles as he is hit by Utah Utes defensive end Nate Orchard (8) during the second half at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Utah defeated Stanford 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

USC vs. Utah: Previewing the Utes Defense

Oct 12, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Stanford Cardinal running back Ricky Seale (30) is tackled during the first half against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface, Utah fields a defense that doesn’t have much to boast about. Ranking 76th in total defense, 62nd in rushing defense and 92 in passing yards allowed, the Utes sit on the lower end of defensive statistics nationally. Their record for scoring defense isn’t much better at 62nd in the country, allowing an average of 26 points per game. They don’t force many turnovers, though they have taken away ten, one more than the Trojans, to rank tied for ninth in the conference. However, the overall statistics don’t speak to the strength of individual units on the defensive side of the ball for the Utes.

The Utah defense leads the Pac-12 in sacks, good for 11th in the nation with 22 total. Leading the charge is senior defensive end Trevor Reilly whose three-and-a-half sacks and 58 tackles are tops on the team. The versatile Reilly can also shift over to linebacker when needed. His three fumble recoveries leave him tied for third nationally. On the other side of the line, junior Nate Orchard also has three-and-a-half sacks to his name. He has also wreaked havoc in opposing backfields with seven tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipulotu round out the line with 30 and 23 tackles respectively.

In the linebacking corp, Jared Norris, a sophomore and former teammate of USC quarterback Cody Kessler, comes in second on the team with 56 tackles including 4.5 for a loss. His leadership in the middle has been an essential part of the Utes defense this year. His partner in the center of the defense is fellow sophomore Jason Whittingham, head coach Kyle Whittingham’s nephew; the pair of them switch between the mac and rover linebacker positions interchangeably. Whittingham has 41 tackles to his name and has averaged a team-high 8.3 tackles per game after missing the first two games with injury. At 6-2 and 240 pounds, he has added a much needed physical presence to Utah’s second line.

The Ute secondary features plenty of defenders who like to knock down passes but don’t do enough to come away with interceptions. Utah is second in the Pac-12 behind Oregon in passes broken up. Senior Keith McGill leads the conference in that particular statistic while free safety Eric Rowe, a junior and former Freshman All-American, has the second-most pass breakups in the conference at six. Strong safety Michael Walker adds four of his own. Walker, an undersized senior, also lays claim to one of Utah’s two interceptions on the season. McGill is credited with the other. Rowe, on the other hand, sits third on the team with 46 tackles, while Walker boasts 41 and McGill has 21.

Projected Starting Lineup:

LE #8 Nate Orchard
DT #91 Tenny Palepoi
DT #58 LT Tuipulotu
RE/SLB #9 Trevor Reilly
MLB #41 Jared Norris
RLB #53 Jason Whittingham
CB #1 Keith McGill
CB #11 Davion Orphey
NB #25 Mike Honeycutt
FS #18 Eric Rowe
SS #15 Michael Walker

Check out the other side of the Utah matchup: Previewing the Utes Offense

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