Utah Utes Football: Grading the Defense in 2011

Alex ShoemakerAnalyst IISeptember 1, 2011

Utah Utes Football: Grading the Defense in 2011

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    The Utah Utes did not have the finish to the 2010 season that they were hoping for.

    After a perfect 8-0 start to the season, back-to-back blowout losses to TCU and Notre Dame had the Utes fighting to stay in the top 25.

    Two narrow victories over San Diego State and BYU had Utes fans confident for a strong finish for the season.

    The Utes unfortunately had to face a pissed-off Boise State team out for blood.

    In 2011, the Utes return 12 starters on both sides of the ball and have a lot to prove this season.

    Here’s a look at the defense, grading each position from defensive line to the defensive backs.

    For the offense: click here 

Defensive Linemen: B-

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    The Utes only return two of their four starters on the defensive line, and they have the daunting task of replacing Junior Tui'one, Christian Cox and Sealver Siliga (now in the NFL).

    James Aiono (10 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss) and Derrick Shelby are two stars on the defensive line and will need to carry the unit.

    The Utes have issues at depth along the line.

    An injury to one of their four starters would be a huge blow.

Linebackers: B+

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    This linebacker corps is loaded.

    It all starts with the man in the middle, Chaz Walker (113 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss), who is one of the best MLBs in the entire country.

    After Walker is another beast linebacker in Matt Martinez (91 tackles, 1.5 sacks, four tackles for loss).

    At the other OLB position is returning star Brian Blechen, making the move from SS where he earned the honor of being named a freshman All-American.

Defensive Backs: C+

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    Giving this defensive backfield a “C+” is probably way higher than they actually deserve.

    The entire starting secondary is gone, and in their place are four new starters with little experience playing with the starting unit.

    The secondary’s previous best player, Brian Blechen, is now a linebacker, which I guess shows the coaching staff’s confidence in this unit.

    In 2010, the Utes’ secondary allowed 61.3 percent of passes to be completed and gave up 225 yards through the air on average.

    I don’t expect this to improve.

Overall Defense: B

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    The Utes are making the difficult transition from a non-AQ conference in the Mountain West to one of the elite conferences in the Pac-12. Utah’s offense and defense are about equal, with each having questions to answer. If head coach Kyle Whittingham can make the Utes a contender in their first season in the conference, it will prove he is one of the top coaches in the country.