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Can Utes’ D-line turn up the heat vs. Sun Devils?

Like Oregon QB Bo Nix, Arizona State quarterback Trenton Bourguet gets the ball out fast, which poses a challenge for Utah’s defensive line

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Utah defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa (57) and and linebacker Levani Damuni (3) get pressure on Oregon quarterback Bo Nix.

Utah defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa (57) and and linebacker Levani Damuni (3) get pressure on Oregon quarterback Bo Nix but not before he gets off a pass in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. The Utes didn’t register a sack against the Ducks, only the second time this season that has happened in a game.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

Bo Nix and Oregon’s offense caused plenty of problems for Utah’s defense in a 35-6 loss on Saturday.

The Heisman Trophy contender was efficient, completing 78% of his passes, and threw for 248 yards and a score while picking apart Utah’s defense. Oregon ran the hurry-up offense and Nix got the ball out fast, neutralizing the Utes’ pass rush, which had been one of the best in the nation.


Utes on the air

No. 18 Utah (6-2, 3-2 Pac-12)
vs. Arizona State (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12)
Saturday, 12 p.m. MDT
Rice-Eccles Stadium
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700/92.1 FM

“I feel like we all were just bad. We couldn’t get lined up fast enough, you know, they were going tempo, waiting on the call, but we just got to do better getting lined up. So that’s really what it was,” cornerback Zemaiah Vaughn said.

Though Arizona State certainly doesn’t have the offensive firepower that Oregon does — the Ducks score 45.5 points per game compared to the Sun Devils’ 19.6 — ASU coach Kenny Dillingham was the offensive coordinator under Dan Lanning at Oregon last year.

Like Nix, Arizona State quarterback Trenton Bourguet gets the ball out fast, which poses a challenge for Utah’s defensive line.

“Almost the same type of offense from last week. They don’t give up too many sacks because the ball gets out pretty quick,” defensive ends coach Lewis Powell said.

Against Oregon, Utah’s defensive line did not record a sack for only the second time all season, and the first time since the win at Baylor in early September. Part of that was an excellent job from Oregon’s offensive line, but Nix getting the ball out early was also a big factor.

“Those guys did a good job throughout the year to have only given up four sacks and they did a good job again and didn’t give us time to get home,” Powell said.

After experiencing the ball coming out fast from Nix and preparing for the same thing again Saturday against Arizona State, Utah’s defense is ready to dial up some exotic blitzes to get to Bourguet.


Arizona State quarterback Trenton Bourguet throws during warmups before game against Washington, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023, in Seattle. Like Oregon’s Bo Nix, Bourguet gets rid of the ball quickly.

Lindsey Wasson, Associated Press

“There’s different things that we can do. Sometimes just either dropping more or bringing more people, just a different element of surprise and something that they haven’t seen before and maybe that makes the quarterback second guess himself and maybe that split second that he’s taking will allow us to get to the quarterback,” Powell said.

Bourguet is coming off of a good game — 247 passing yards with a 73.1% completion rate — in a 38-27 win over Washington State as the Sun Devils snapped a six-game losing streak. For the first time all season, Arizona State scored more than 30 points and gained more than 500 yards of offense.

Arizona State has a lot of short passes in the playbook that allow Bourguet to get the ball out quickly and let his receivers do the rest, so open-field tackling will be key for the Utes this week. Running back Cameron Skattebo is a key part of Arizona State’s short passing game (20 catches for 273 yards and a touchdown), along with Elijhah Badger (45 receptions for 532 and two touchdowns).

Despite the emphasis on quick passing plays, the Sun Devils’ offensive line has allowed 22 sacks this season, which ranks in the bottom third of FBS teams.

Six Arizona State offensive linemen — Ben Coleman, Emmit Bohle, Max Iheanachor, Sione Finau, Kyle Scott and Bram Walden — were out against Washington State, according to Michelle Gardner of the Arizona Republic, but Bourguet was kept clean vs. Washington State as the Sun Devils allowed zero sacks.

“We got to fight and claw for sacks, but we know the ball’s going to get out, so we got to make sure that when we get our opportunity for a drop back pass that we make the most of it,” Powell said.

After an emotionally draining loss, Utah’s defensive line knows it has to play better this week as the Utes try and rebound at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“I felt like they were hungry,” Powell said of the mood at practice. “It’s not like they came out here with their heads down because of what happened, but excited how they reacted and how they bounced back and I’m excited to see how it goes this week.”

In case you missed it

Despite the loss to Oregon giving Utah two conference defeats, the Utes still have lots to play for — a long shot at the Pac-12 championship game, or a chance to get a win in a bowl for the first time since 2017. With Utah more than likely out of the Pac-12 championship race, what would constitute a successful season given the injury circumstances?

From the archives

Extra points

  • The first College Football Playoff rankings have been released. Where did the Utah Utes land? (Deseret News)
  • What Pat McAfee thought of his trip to Utah for ‘College GameDay’ (Deseret News)
  • 6 takeaways (plus 1) from the weekend in college football (Deseret News)

Up next

  • Nov. 2-5 | All day | Men’s tennis | ITA nationals | @ San Diego, California
  • Nov. 3-5 | All day | Women’s tennis | Texas A&M Fall Invitational | @ College Station, Texas
  • Nov. 3 | 2 p.m. MDT | Women’s soccer | vs. Colorado | @ Salt Lake City
  • Nov. 3 | 7 p.m. MDT | Volleyball | at Oregon | @ Eugene, Oregon
  • Nov. 4 | 12 p.m. MDT | Football | vs. Arizona State | @ Salt Lake City
  • Nov. 4 | 12 p.m. MDT | Swim and dive | at UNLV | @ Las Vegas, Nevada
  • Nov. 5 | 1 p.m. MST | Volleyball | at Oregon State | @ Corvallis, Oregon
  • Nov. 6 | 4 p.m. MST | Women’s basketball | vs. Mississippi Valley State | @ Salt Lake City
  • Nov. 6 | 7:30 p.m. MST | Men’s basketball | vs. Eastern Washington | @ Salt Lake City

Utah Utes defensive tackle Aliki Vimahi (95) celebrates with Utah Utes defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa (57) on a quarterback sack during the season opener against Florida at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. The Utah defensive line faces another tough test this week against Arizona State.

Megan Nielsen, Deseret News