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Could this be what’s missing from Utah’s defense this season?

Losing a player like Devin Lloyd to the NFL is tough to overcome, and not just because of what he brought to the field

SHARE Could this be what’s missing from Utah’s defense this season?
Utah defensive end Connor O’Toole (81) and Miki Suguturaga rush Oregon State QB Ben Gulbranson at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah defensive end Connor O’Toole (81) and Miki Suguturaga rush Oregon State quarterback Ben Gulbranson at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Utah’s defense has struggled in its two biggest games of the season.

The No. 20 Utes missed a bunch of tackles, missed assignments and surrendered more than 200 yards rushing against Florida and UCLA.

Now, Utah faces another big challenge against No. 7 USC, which is averaging 40 points per game. 

What’s missing from the defense? And can the Utes turn things around during the second half of the season? 

“You’ve got to reflect and learn from the process last week. But the process is to practice hard,” said linebackers coach Colton Swan. “We know how to win here. Respect that process, get it done, don’t take any shortcuts. If you do it well, you’ll play well on Saturdays.”

Last week, a key penalty in the second half against Utah’s defense played a big role. The Utes trailed by just a field goal when UCLA faced a third-and-seven. Utah got a stop but linebacker Karene Reid was whistled for roughing the passer, giving the Bruins a new set of downs. 

“It’s pretty frustrating to let them out of a third-and-seven like that at that point of the game,” Swan said. “I think we were down by three. That was a tough one. It was a bang-bang play. It’s very frustrating.”

Is part of what’s missing for Utah’s defense leadership on the field?

The Utes lost one of their best leaders, and best defensive players — linebacker Devin Lloyd, who was a first-round pick in last spring’s NFL draft. 

Lloyd’s leadership is difficult to replace. 

“He’s a great leader,” Swan said. 

At linebacker, Swan has Reid, Florida transfer Mohamoud Diabate, and freshman Lander Barton at linebacker, among others. 

“I’ve got young players and new players. It’s teaching what the expectations are and teaching what leadership is about,” Swan said. “That takes coaching as well. It’s holding guys accountable. Then eventually they know what the standard is and they’ll start to hold each other accountable.”


Utes on the air

No. 7 USC (6-0, 4-0)

at No. 20 Utah (4-2, 2-1)

Saturday, 6 p.m. MDT

Rice-Eccles Stadium

TV: Fox

Radio: ESPN 700