Pac-12 This Week: Utah’s defense sits atop the league
Utah left end Bradlee Anae may be the next mayor of Sack Lake City.
Anae is among four players in the Pac-12 who have collected three sacks this season to lead the league, joining Oregon freshman Mase Funa, Colorado’s Mustafa Johnson and Oregon State’s Hamilcar Rashed.
Anae has 20 career sacks, ranking him third among active players. He needs 9.5 sacks to catch Utah career leader Hunter Dimick (2013-16).
“He is definitely within reach, but he will have to have a pretty good year, which we hope he does,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He is off to a pretty good start.”
With a defensive line that includes Anae and fellow seniors Leki Fotu and John Penisini, Utah ranks eighth nationally in total defense, allowing 239.3 yards a game, and seventh in rushing defense, with opponents gaining just 65 yards on the ground per game. Utah is among just six teams nationally with two defensive touchdowns, and the Utes have four interceptions, ranking them eighth. They’ve allowed opponents an average of just 9.7 points a game.
Utah (3-0) blanked Idaho State 31-0 last weekend and rose to No. 10 in the AP Top 25 , the team’s highest ranking since 2015.
“It is one of the top if not the top front in the country. They have some big dudes,” Idaho State coach Rob Phenicie said. “Number 6 (Anae) and 99 (Fotu) are great players and they have some good linebackers. Their scheme is not that difficult but they are very good at executing.”
The 2014 Utes’ defense had 55 sacks, which is when the Sack Lake City nickname grabbed hold. They’ve got seven sacks overall this season. Oh, and speaking of sacks, Utah’s offense is one of four at the FBS level that hasn’t allowed one.
The Utes open conference play this week with a trip to Los Angeles for a Friday night game against USC (2-1). Utah has won just once on the road against the Trojans — way back in 1916.
“This is a mature team. This team seems to handle their business very well and my guess is that we will go down there, not overreact, and just play our game,” Whittingham said.
Utah’s D will see something new in LA: The Trojans’ Air Raid-style offense under offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Freshman quarterback Kedon Slovis, who was impressive in his first start against Stanford, had a rough outing last weekend, throwing three interceptions in a loss at BYU.
Utah’s defense gets to see the Air Raid again the week after when the Utes host No. 19 Washington State.
A look at some of the other teams and players who have made a defensive stand this season:
OREGON RISING: The Ducks (2-1) are adjusting to yet another new defense. This time it’s under defensive coordinator Andy Avalos, who joined Oregon in the offseason after seven seasons at Boise State. The Ducks are allowing opponents an average of just 12 points a game and — talk about sacks — they lead the league with 10, paced by Funa, one of the league’s standout freshmen this season.
So far this season, Oregon has only allowed teams to score field goals at Autzen Stadium. It is the first time since 1987-88 that the Ducks haven’t allowed a touchdown in back-to-back games. And they’ve gone 27 consecutive drives without allowing a touchdown.
And one more stat: the Ducks are holding opponents to 272.3 yards a game, second-fewest in the league behind Utah.
“Overall I feel our defense and the way it’s being coached, the way those guys have taken it in, they’re hungry. They’re hungry for more and we’re going to give it to them,” coach Mario Cristobal said.
And yes, the Ducks’ D will get more this Saturday when they open conference play at Stanford (1-2) which is back home after losses at USC and UCF.
INTERCEPTIONS GALORE: Arizona’s defense leads the nation with eight interceptions. Jace Whittaker has three so far this season.
The Wildcats had just seven interceptions in all of 2018.
Arizona (2-1) is coming off a 28-14 victory over Texas Tech, which was averaging 41.5 points per game. Linebacker Colin Schooler said the defense’s performance was to answer critics after a shaky start to the season.
“We have a big sign in front of our locker room that says, ‘It’s about us.’ When we hear people talk and gossip and get on social media and talk about us, it doesn’t matter. I mean, outside of this building, there’s really not much that matters here. And I think we showed a lot of people that they could be wrong about how we play and how our future’s gonna look.”
Arizona has a bye this weekend before hosting UCLA.
TACKLES GALORE: Cal linebacker Evan Weaver is averaging 13.7 tackles a game to top the Pac-12. He had 11 tackles in the Golden Bears’ victory over North Texas last weekend, extending a streak of games with double-digit tackles to 10. He now ranks ninth on the program’s career tackles list with 271.
“I think that a few ways we can get better, just knowing our communication, make sure we are talking out there, alignments are right and make sure that everybody — the ones, the twos, the threes — all know what they are doing. So when they get out there, the younger more inexperienced guys know what they are doing,” he said. “That is a huge part of building success and staying successful is making sure that the young guys, when they have their chance, still know what they are doing for the future.”
The week before the North Texas game, Weaver matched a career high with 18 tackles, including a career-best 14 solo stops, in the Golden Bears’ weather-delayed upset of Washington.
No. 23 Cal (3-0) plays at Mississippi (2-1) on Saturday.
SUN DEVILS SHINE: Arizona State’s defense has held the team’s first three opponents to a combined 21 points. It’s the fewest points allowed by the team over a three-game stretch since 1993. Defensive end Jermayne Lole had eight tackles and got ASU’s only sack in the 10-7 upset at Michigan State last weekend.
The No. 24 Sun Devils (3-0) host Colorado (2-1) on Saturday night.
HONORS: The Pac-12′s defensive player of the week went to Washington senior defensive back Myles Bryant, who had two interceptions and a sack in the Huskies’ rebound victory over Hawaii on Saturday. He had four solo tackles.
No. 22 Washington (2-1) plays a final nonconference game at BYU (2-1) this Saturday.