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BYU, Virginia, Utah, UCLA: Which defenses will show up? (plus weekly predictions)

BYU and Utah defenses face high-flying offenses. The question is, will they be up to the task?

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BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar stands on the field during game against Washington State, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman, Wash.

BYU linebacker Payton Wilgar stands on the field during game against Washington State, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Pullman, Wash. Wilgar and his cohorts will need to be in top form against Virginia’s vaunted passing attack Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo.

Young Kwak, Associated Press

Anybody got a defense?

That’s the question as UCLA invades Rice-Eccles Stadium for a crucial Pac-12 South Division game and former BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall brings his Virginia Cavaliers to Provo to see if BYU can defeat its fifth Power Five opponent this year.

Utah’s defense ranks 54th nationally, allowing 361.4 yards a game.

UCLA’s defense ranks 71st, allowing 386.6 yards per outing.

BYU’s defense ranks 72nd, giving up 386.2.

Virginia’s defense ranks 105th, yielding 432.8.

You can shuffle all that around, weigh it by strength of schedule, type of offenses faced, what kinds of injuries have occurred in each defensive two-deep, what cycle the moon was in at the time.

Put any spin you want on it.

But the fact is, the team that plays the best defense Saturday should end up the victor.

If you go by scoring allowed by a defense, you get the following:

BYU ranks 47th in scoring defense, allowing 22.50 points a game.

Utah is 67th in the country, giving up 25.43 per game.

UCLA ranks 71st, allowing opponents an average o 26.25 points.

Virginia ranks 73rd, giving up 26.38 a game.

None of these teams have a tremendously dominating defense that scares mouthpieces out of offensive players. 

AP21298108551554.jpg

Oregon State offensive lineman Brandon Kipper (68) collides with Utah defensive end Mika Tafua during game Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Corvallis, Ore. The Utes will have their hands full against UCLA Saturday, which ranks No. 2 in total offense in the Pac-12.

Amanda Loman, Associated Press

But they are serviceable.

Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, BYU’s Kalani Sitake and Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall all come from defensive backgrounds. They’ll tell you all day long that defenses win championships and none of them want to see an offense go up against them and score in the 30s. When that happens, all bets are off.

These are guys who have created or been a part of defenses in the past that have been top 10, even top five nationally.

This is what makes Saturday’s games along the Wasatch Front so intriguing.

harmon picks

This week’s picks


Stanford 27, Washington 17

Cincinnati 38, Tulane 17

Michigan State 28, Michigan 24

Baylor 28, Texas 24

Georgia 42, Florida 21

Oregon 34, Colorado 17

SMU 37, Houston 31

Arizona State 28, Washington State 21

San Diego State 28, Fresno State 24

Utah 28, UCLA 21

BYU 28, Virginia 27

Last week 6-4; overall 94-49 ( .657)


BYU is fresh off allowing Washington State just 19 points on their home field last week.

Sitake liked that.

Utah gave up 21 points in the third quarter after holding a 24-14 lead on Oregon State before losing 42-34. Not all of the 42 was the fault of the defense.

Whittingham had to sigh, very deeply.

UCLA had a 14-0 lead on Oregon before losing 34-31. The Ducks offense is pretty good.

Bruins coach Chip Kelly may have had to soak his ulcers.

Virginia beat Georgia Tech with quarterback Brennan Armstrong throwing for more than 400 yards and running for about 100. But, Georgia Tech scored 24 second-half points and 40 for the game in an eight-point loss, 48-40.

Mendenhall needed some saddle sore balm.

Quotable:

Mendenhall after his 48-40 win last week: “I’d have rather won 13-6.”

BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki on Virginia’s offense: “With where they are at, the type of stats they are putting up, the amount of points they are putting up, it is a really, really tough offense to prepare for. We have our work cut out for us.”

UCLA’s Kelly on his struggles beating Utah: “You can go around and around and around with scenarios, but if you don’t win it doesn’t really matter.”

Utah’s Whittingham on his defensive front: “We’re starting three freshmen D-linemen. You never make excuses, because if you’re out there, you’ve got to perform. But we’re just not quite where we need to be up front yet. We’ve had flashes during the course of the year, but not quite enough consistency.”