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Inside four impact plays Utah linebacker Francis Bernard made against Washington State to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week

SHARE Inside four impact plays Utah linebacker Francis Bernard made against Washington State to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week

Utah Utes linebacker Francis Bernard (13) intercepts a Washington State Cougars pass at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Linebacker Francis Bernard had perhaps his best game as a Ute on Saturday night against Washington State, totaling 12 tackles — leading the team — and an interception.

“Francis Bernard has just been such a great addition to our football team. Love the guy. He’s just the same mold as Cody (Barton) and Chase (Hansen), all he likes to do is play football and have fun and work hard. He’s just got a great attitude,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Bernard was all over the field on Saturday and was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week, his second player of the week award of the season.

“Honestly, it’s just a credit to the coaching staff and the defense, honestly, for putting me in the right position to make plays. Just preparing our butts off to play as well as I did. Just a credit to the program and a credit to my guys, just making me look good,” Bernard said.

With Washington’s vaunted Air Raid offense coming into Rice-Eccles Stadium, Bernard and the defense knew they had to primarily stop the pass.

“Coach (Scalley) had a great game plan to stop the pass, added a great package for us to stop the pass. We knew that and our job was just to execute it. I just thought it was a great job from the guys to prepare going into the weekend and we did just that,” Bernard said.

Bernard broke down four of his most impactful plays in the Wazzu game — bringing down WSU QB Anthony Gordon for no gain in the red zone, a pass hurry-up in the red zone, a big hit and an interception.

With Washington State down by just four with five minutes left in the first half, the Cougars were on Utah’s nine-yard line and were knocking on the door to take the lead. On first-and-goal, Bernard comes off the edge, gets around WSU offensive lineman Abraham Lucas and is able to take down Gordon from behind for no gain.

“This is a called play. I was told to come off the pressure. All day, I had kind of been setting up the tackle, just giving a little hesitation, made an outside move. This one, I finally got ahold of his arm cleanly, came free. Should have been a sack, but I was able to get to him,” Bernard said.

On the next play, Utah dials up a disguised blitz. The Utes look like they are only going to rush three as Bernard starts near the line and thens step back as if he is going to drop into coverage. Once the ball is snapped, Bernard charges untouched up the middle, while RJ Hubert, who also appeared to be in coverage before the ball was snapped, comes from the right. The two force Gordon to throw the ball away.

“I showed pressure and then kind of backed off to make it look like I wasn’t going to come. As soon as I backed off, fortunately my feet were set to get going and I took off, good timing, and I was able to get the pressure,” Bernard said.

Washington State would have to settle for a field goal on the drive.

With seven minutes to go in the third quarter, Bernard drops into shallow coverage. Gordon throws a short shovel pass in the middle of the field to running back Max Borghi, and Bernard lays down the boom.

“The running back was my coverage, and as he stepped up, I just knew it would look funny. He usually either releases now or he’ll step up in the release, so as soon as he stepped up towards the center, I was like, ‘That’s a screen,’ so I stepped up, took my shot, and just got a big hit on him,” Bernard said.

Bernard capped off his night with an interception late in the fourth quarter to seal the game. Instead of dropping into shallow coverage, Bernard drops about 10 yards deep, reads Gordon’s eyes and picks off the pass intended for Travell Harris.

“On the interception, they’d been running this concept all game — mesh dagger wheel. I got close to one (interception) earlier in the game and I was upset with myself. I was like, ‘Dang, I’m going to get one later in the game.’ Sure enough, it was late in the game, I knew they had to take a chance, so I knew not to drive the shallow, but to go find the dig. I just backed up, found the dig and got my eyes back just in time; the quarterback threw me the ball,” Bernard said.