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'Suffocating' defense a big key to Utes' comfortable victory over USC Trojans

USC Trojans running back Stephen Carr is brought down by a gang of Utes during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.
USC Trojans running back Stephen Carr is brought down by a gang of Utes during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.
Ravell Call

SALT LAKE CITY — Don’t be deceived by the final score of Utah’s 41-28 victory over USC Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Ute defense did not allow 28 points. In fact, it only gave up one sustained drive all night, and that came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. The other scores came on a fumble return, a short drive after a blocked punt and a long pass that was well-defended.

In all, USC, which had been averaging nearly 400 yards a game this year, finished with just 205 total yards. Take away the late 75-yard drive and the early 34-yard pass, and the Trojans managed under 100 yards of total offense.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham couldn’t have been happier with his D.

“The defense was suffocating, that was great to see,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good players on that defense, and we don’t really have a weakness. It’s a very talented group, they believe in each other, and coach (Morgan) Scalley has done a great job of molding those guys.”

Senior linebacker Chase Hansen led the defense with 11 tackles and a key interception in the first quarter that set up Utah’s second score of the game.

“We’ve always had a lot of confidence in our defense and I just feel like the position guys are balling out,” Hansen said. “We’ve got a great defensive line, a great secondary and me and Cody (Barton) are holding things down in the middle. It’s fun — we’ve got a good squad and we’re game to go up against any offense. USC’s got a good offense, a lot of really good athletes.”

On that interception, nickelback Javelin Guidry batted the ball in the air and Hansen dove to get it at the USC 20-yard line. That set up a 33-yard field goal by Matt Gay to cut the early deficit to 14-10.

“Jav made the play on the ball, it kind of popped up, and I just came up with it,” said Hansen. “I try to run toward the ball, and sometimes good things happen.”

“Man, I should have picked it,” said Guidry. “I still made a play, and Chase caught it. We love turnovers.”

The Utes also came up with another turnover in the third quarter when it was still a ballgame. On fourth down, the Ute defensive line brought pressure on USC quarterback J.T. Daniels, who was hurried into a throw that was picked off near the goal line by Jaylen Johnson.

Whittingham said the Utes used more zone coverage against the Trojans, who have several big receivers and are hard to cover one-on-one. That wrinkle fouled up the Trojans’ offensive game plan.

“I thought they did a nice job with their defensive front,” said USC coach Clay Helton. “They played a lot more cover two than I thought they’d play tonight. Their front did great, and we did not run the ball to our capability, and that’s on me.”

In all, the Trojans ran for only 73 yards, which is just under what the Ute defense has been giving up this year. The Utes came into the game ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense at 74.8 yards per game.

Another key stat for the Ute defense was third-down conversions, as USC ended up 3 of 14 after being 0 for 10 after three quarters.

“We wanted to stop the run game and force them to pass and we did that tonight,” said defensive tackle Leki Fotu, who had four tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. “I’m just happy with the outcome.”