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Utah football: Utes ranked No. 1 nationally in run defense

Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu lines up for a play during game against Washington State in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018.
Utah defensive tackle Leki Fotu (99) lines up for a play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Washington State in Pullman, Wash., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Young Kwak, FR159675 AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is defending the run better than any team in the nation. The Utes enter Friday night’s game at UCLA ranked No. 1, allowing just 74.6 yards per game on the ground.

"We have had some stout run defenses in the past and that has always been the starting point on defense for us, is we take away the run,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who added that the Utes have had outstanding personnel in the past to put up good numbers.

However, he said this year’s group really seems to be finding their place.

“Each guy, at each position, has really done a good job. We haven't really had a spot that has been concerning or not getting play out of one spot,” Whittingham said. “There’s always room for improvement, but everybody is playing very well across the board on defense — but particularly in the front six."

The Utes have an individual leader on defense as well. Senior linebacker Chase Hansen is second in the country in tackles for loss per game (2.0).

“There’s a lot of other statistics. I feel like I should be up there as well. So there’s other things I want to do better,” Hansen said. “But I feel like we’ve got a great D-line that opens things up, and when I’m able to make those plays it’s just part of the system. So I feel like I should be making the plays I’m making and there’s others that I kind of need to improve on as well. Hopefully, I can climb a little bit more.”

IN MOURNING: Utah officials issued the following statement Tuesday morning:

Out of respect for the tragedy in our athletics department with the death of track student-athlete Lauren McCluskey, there will be no football media availability today. There will be no further media opportunities until after the game Friday.”

RARE SWEEP: The Pac-12 reports that Utah’s sweep of its weekly football awards — Tyler Huntley (offense), Hansen (defense) and Matt Gay (special teams) — has happened just three other times in conference history. USC did it in 1988, while Oregon State hit the trifecta in 2004 and 2006.

RANK-A-RAMA: Utah jumped back into the national rankings this week, checking in at No. 23 in the AP Top 25 and 24th in the coaches poll.

“We acknowledged it and it feels good to kind of be in that top 25,” Hansen said. “But like coach Whitt (is) saying, there’s just a lot of football left and we try not to pay too much attention to it.”

SUPER SOPHOMORE: Defensive end Maxs Tupai is on a roll. He’s started in every game during Utah’s current win streak, making 14 tackles (nine against Arizona) with one pass breakup. He also managed to block a field goal attempt.

"The light switch has just come on and sometimes there really is no explanation for that. A guy will be in your program and not make a lot of noise and then all of the sudden, something clicks,” Whittingham said. “That is what has happened with Maxs. He is turning into the exact player that we had hoped he would be when we recruited him, and that has been a huge plus for us.”

EXTRA POINTS: Utah’s game at Arizona State on Nov. 3 will kick off at 2 p.m. and be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. … The Utes are 4-0 this season when leading 4-0 at halftime and 4-0 when finishing with more passing yards. … Left tackle Jackson Barton, a senior, has appeared in 46 consecutive games and leads the line with 508 plays this season.