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Opponent Preview: San Diego State Defense

NCAA Football: San Diego State at BYU USA TODAY NETWORK

Coming off a gut-check loss to BYU last Saturday, Utah hits the road for a second week in a row, this time taking on the San Diego Aztecs and their 44th ranked defense.

Granted, the Aztecs haven’t exactly faced powerhouse offenses through their first two games between New Mexico State and Arizona. Still, up to this point, Utah’s offense hasn’t produced much to suggest they can overpower a stingy Group of Five defense that has allowed just three touchdowns on the season while scoring just as many. You read that right...SDSU has allowed opposing teams to score just three times so far in 2021, while that same defense is accountable for three of the team’s nine touchdowns. Considering Utah’s turnover struggles against the Cougars last week, this particular stat doesn’t bode well for the Utes’ chances to rebound before conference play begins next week.

Junior defensive lineman Cameron Thomas (6’5”, 270 lbs) will likely wreak havoc on Utah’s offensive line. The San Diego native possesses NFL caliber talent and would be a welcome addition to almost any PAC-12 d-line with his ability to break into the backfield and pressure opposing quarterbacks. Having tallied ten total tackles and a single six-yard sack already this season, Thomas will need to be contained if the -8.5 favorite Utes want to at least meet the oddsmaker’s expectations.

Downfield, the 6’0”, 210 lbs junior safety, Patrick McMorris is coming into his own as an elite defender. A first-year starter, McMorris has seen limited action prior to 2021, playing in nine games his freshman year, primarily on special teams with just three snaps played on the defensive side of the ball before picking up his first start in a late November matchup against Nevada last season. With 11 total tackles so far this season, the rising star has already matched his combined defensive production through his first two seasons while adding an assisted tackle for loss and his first career interception against Arizona.

On paper, SDSU’s defense is the best Utah has faced early this season. Turnover problems against BYU certainly have the Aztec’s ball-hawking secondary salivating at the prospect of finding even more takeaways. If Utah’s offensive line play can improve enough between week two and three, there’s a glimmer of hope Utah escapes Southern California with a signature win to get the season back on track.