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October 26, 2012
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This week, UteZone.com publisher Dan Sorensen joins BearTerritory.net publisher Ryan Gorcey for a little Q&A about Utah in advance of California's trip to Salt Lake City on Saturday.
BearTerritory: What does defensive tackle Star Lotulelei do so well to abuse opposing offensive lines and change plays at the line of scrimmage?
UteZone: Lotulelei is one of the most explosive defensive tackles in the entire nation. He fires off the ball as quickly as anyone we've ever seen at Utah, and is especially good at knocking the center or guard back when he's blocked one-on-one. As such, Lotulelei has commanded double and triple teams on a vast majority of the snaps he plays. Lotulelei's game versus USC was a striking example of his dominance. Lotulelei manhandled Trojans center Khaled Holmes for the entire fist half before USC adjusted, sending two and three blockers at him every play and running away from him at every opportunity.
BT: The Utes only have two picks on the year, but still have the No. 3 passing defense in the Pac-12. Is that due to scheme in the secondary, or is it mostly due to the kind of pressure the front seven can get?
UZ: The main reason that the Utes have only two picks on the season is that the defense has dropped almost every single opportunity that they have had to make the interception. The number of easy interceptions that have been dropped by the Ute defense this season is astounding. The Utah corners are physical and aggressive, and will often be left out on an island in man-on-man coverage, with free safety Eric Rowe playing center field over the top. The pass rush has done a good job keeping quarterbacks uncomfortable, and with the exception of the Arizona State game, has kept most opposing quarterbacks in check.
BT: Obviously with the upheaval under center, it's not surprising that Utah has been a little up-and-down in the passing game. What are the hopes for the future with Travis Wilson, and what kind of improvement have you seen in him from the start of the season to now? What does he do well? What does he need to work on?
UZ: Wilson arrived on campus as ready to play as any true freshman we've ever seen. He had a great spring camp, and continued with a strong showing this fall. In his two starts, Wilson has shown poise, but can sometimes try to force plays, which has led to untimely turnovers. Wilson has a good arm and is accurate, especially for a true freshman. The game still looks a little fast for Wilson as well, so at times if his primary read isn't there, sometimes he isn't able to make the play. That said, the Utah offense has been noticeably better moving the ball between the 20s since Wilson took over the reigns. He just needs to figure out how to close drives and score touchdowns. Wilson's future appears bright at Utah, but they'll need to see steady and consistent improvement from him if the Utes want to make a bowl game.
BT: What has the emergence of Kelvin York done for John White and the Utes running game?
UZ: White's inability to carry the offense like he did last season has been perhaps the biggest disappointment for Ute fans. That's not all his fault, as the offensive line has struggled through growing pains and White has battled injuries. York has shown promise, and Utah coaches have stated that they expect him to continue to take more carries from White as the season progresses. If York can continue his 5.1 yards per rush with an increased role, it will definitely provide a big boost to the Utah offense that has been one of the worst statistically in the nation thus far this season.
BT: Much has been made this week of the atmosphere at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and how it forces a lot of false starts and illegal procedures. Statistically, how much has the crowd affected opposing teams?
UZ: The MUSS (otherwise known as the Mighty Utah Student Section) has a reputation for being loud and rowdy, and the reputation is well-deserved. Whether they're rushing the field three times in one game like they did against hated rival BYU this season, or hanging signs indicating the number of false starts from opposing offenses as a form of psychological warfare, the Utah crowd considers themselves an integral part of the team's success. Although Utah's stadium isn't the biggest in the Pac-12, the fans are right on top of the action and the stadium can get deafening. Ute fans expect at least two to three extra false starts from opposing offenses for each home game.
BT: Are there any injuries of note that could wind up affecting the game?
UZ: Kyle Whittingham has been treating injury news as if it were a state secret this season, so it's unusual to get accurate updates from week to week. The most pressing injury news is that starting right guard Jeremiah Tofaeono is out for the game and will be replaced by junior Vyncent Jones. Jones has extensive experience, so there isn't much drop-off expected.