It's always great to start off the season with a win, even if it is against an FCS opponent like Idaho State. It's also great to get some game film to watch. So any mistakes can be found and corrected going into the next game, and Utah has plenty to correct defensively going into the Fresno State game, especially with run defense.
Here's how I graded out the Utah defense from the Idaho State game:
It was rather feast or famine with the Utes' D-line this past week. They started out by getting two sacks right off the bat from Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. Throughout the rest of the game though, there was a pretty maddening inconsistency with the defensive front containing the run game. Too often, Idaho State was able to break through the line and gain chunk yardage on the ground, even in 3rd-and-long scenarios. Coach Kyle Whittingham said that it was one of the most frustrating aspects of the game for him. Giving up a 179-yards on the ground to an FCS team is never ideal. The good news is that it's all technique and fundamental based. Coach Whittingham stated that there were too many "dead gaps," meaning that a lineman would miss his gap completely leaving the defense vulnerable. Utah will need to get this corrected in a hurry with the competition ramping up with Fresno coming to town.
D-Line Grade: C
Too many gashing runs to keep drives alive for ISU, especially in 3rd-and-long. I do expect this to get cleaned up going forward.
The linebackers were OK, although they certainly didn't help the defensive line in run defense at times. Jared Norris did miss some assignments to allow for the long runs for ISU, and both he and Jason Whittingham need to shore up a little bit in the passing game. They would allow too much cushion for someone like a tight end to make a simple catch at the 1st-down marker. Considering that the linebackers haven't practiced a ton, they will have some rust to shake off. Seeing what they can fix on film will help them clean up some schematic issues going forward. We are getting closer to the return of Gionni Paul, which will help solidify this group.
Linebackers Grade: B-
Just like the d-line, plenty of good with some bad. This group just needs to sharpen up and get healthy for the season before it really gets into full swing.
Justin Thomson did miss the ISU game, leaving the Utes a little thin in the secondary. Eric Rowe played well in his first game at corner and was a good run stopper on the outside. However, Davion Orphey and Wykie Freeman had tough days. Both had a hard time closing on their men, and keeping them from getting 1st-down grabs. Orphey, specifically, needs to improve or else it's going to be a rough year for him (and the Utes). With the emergence of Dominique Hatfield at corner, there is a strong possibly Orphey may lose some playing time. It seems like Orphey and Freeman were both a step slow on their guys, which would allow them to find the space they needed to make the grab. Brian Blechen and Tevin Carter didn't factor into the game much, although they were also singled out a bit in needing to help the run game more. Blechen needs to be back there keeping the middle of the field on lock down, to help out the linebackers, and Carter needs to play center field to help out the corners. Both should see much more of a test against Fresno.
Secondary Grade: C-
Overall Defensive Grade: C
There was plenty of pressure in the backfield on the quarterback, but the inability to consistently contain the running game, as well as certain elements of the passing game really put some red flags up for the Utes defense. I'm confident the running game will get fixed, but the passing game, specifically at the corner opposite of Rowe, will be interesting to watch. Orphey needs to improve, and he needs to be more aggressive and just play. It still seems like he's thinking too much on the field. If they can get improvement and consistency from him, then that defense will be much more formidable.
What are your thoughts on the Ute defense?