The University of Utah’s defensive front seven has traditionally been a strength of Kyle Whittingham’s teams.
In last week’s 29-26 loss to the University of Florida, the Utes’ four defensive linemen and three linebackers were…something else.
“It was sloppy, that’s the word I keep coming back to, because that’s what it was,” Whittingham said this week. “Technically sloppy, fundamentally sloppy, sloppy tackle, sloppy adjustments.
As the No. 13-ranked Utes prepare to face Southern Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium (11:30 a.m., Pac-12 Networks), that front seven has been a concern for Whittingham.
“We just have to improve across the board in the top seven, the top seven just wasn’t what we’re used to,” he said. “…We just weren’t in the right place at the right time, and when we were there, we missed 27 tackles. That was the tally, which is way high for us. It is usually a single digit, 10 or less, nine or less.
Sharrieff Shah doesn’t coach linebackers or the defensive line, but the Utah cornerbacks coach watched the same movie as Whittingham, so he wasn’t in a position to disagree with the assessment. of the head coach.
“Exactly what Coach Whitt said, that we didn’t make plays that we should have,” Shah said. “That we were unreasonably soft, that we should have played harder, that we should have made more tackles, and that plays were there to be made and we didn’t make them. I agree exactly with what Coach Whitt said.
Florida, which went from unranked to No. 12 in the last AP Top 25 after the win, rushed for 283 yards and 39 attempts, but it wasn’t all on engineered runs. Anthony Richardson, the Gators’ redshirt sophomore star quarterback, rushed for 106 and three touchdowns on 11 attempts, with at least half of those 11 attempts coming on broken plays, not to mention defensive breakdowns.
For example, on second-and-fifth from the Utah 45-yard line late in the second half, Richardson got good protection, stepped up in the pocket, and before the pressure really got to him, he took off wide open on the left sideline. for a touchdown. The only challenge Richardson saw from a Utah defender on the play was when he had to face a charging Clark Phillips III around the 6.
Phillips III was the closest defender to Richardson, but only after sprinting from the right hash to the left sideline, which says a lot about the quality of defense on this play.
“We have to do a much better job of staying within our gaps,” Utes linebacker Karene Reid said. “Florida is a great team, so they made us pay, but if we had played against an average team, we would still have lost a lot of yards the way we played. We shot ourselves in the foot by being misaligned and not knowing our mission.
Whittingham added: “If you look at the tape, our run defense was just abysmal. We gave up nearly 300 yards on the ground, we didn’t control the spread well, we didn’t take the blocks well, we didn’t do anything. Not tackled well. There’s nothing of redeeming value we’ve done in the run defense.
Florida’s winning run was a microcosm of Utah’s defensive struggles.
The Gators went 14 plays, 75 yards on 4:57, capped by Richardson’s 2-yard touchdown to put Florida up, 29-26, after the extra point with 1:25 left. Utah’s defense was on the verge of bailing out several times during this drive.
Third-and-4 at Florida 31: Richardson takes a shotgun blast, hits wide receiver Xzavier Henderson for a 5-yard gain.
Third-and-1 at Florida 45: Trevor Etienne rushes down the middle for 21 yards, fumbles the ball in front of six yards, then wins it back to put the Gators up at Utah 34.
Fourth-and-2 at Utah 26 with 1:53 left: Off the shotgun again, Richardson rushes for nine yards.
Florida kept him grounded from there, eating the final 17 yards on four plays.
“We made a lot of fundamental mistakes,” third-year defensive end Van Fillinger said. “We weren’t making those mistakes against the scout team, against the first team attack. You go against some good guys, however, you see things you’re not used to seeing. Maybe we were caught off guard, but it wasn’t something we weren’t prepared for. We just try to correct our weaknesses and we try to improve.
Whittingham added: “The whole top seven, as I mentioned, was, if you look at the whole game, offense, defense and special teams, our biggest shortcomings were in the first seven in defense, that includes the front guys and the backer.