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Utah sophomore Devin Lloyd has been a pleasant surprise at linebacker

Washington State Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) passes under pressure from Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Washington State Cougars quarterback Anthony Gordon (18) passes under pressure from Utah Utes linebacker Devin Lloyd (20) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Five games into the 2019 season, Devin Lloyd leads the University of Utah football team in tackles.

While that might be a slightly surprising development heading into Saturday night’s game at Oregon State — especially considering fellow linebacker Francis Bernard is at his side and the fact Lloyd, a sophomore, had never started before this season — there’s another player who has his sights set on the top spot of that statistical category.

“It’s definitely something I’m going to take over,” Ute free safety Julian Blackmon said. “But he’s doing pretty good right now. I gave him one game to get ahead of me.”

Blackmon, who sat out a game with an injury, was joking.

And the senior has a lot of room to make up if he really does plan on leading the Utes in tackles. Lloyd has amassed 38 tackles in five games, and leads Bernard by one in that category. Terrell Burgess is next with 22 tackles, followed by Blackmon and Javelin Guidry with 18 apiece.

“Stats are great,” Lloyd said. “But it’s not something I really focus on.”

The 6-foot-3, 235-pound underclassman is more focused on following Bernard’s lead and advice. In doing so, he’s made it so the Utes are thriving at linebacker despite the loss of stellar LBs Chase Hansen and Cody Barton to graduation.

Utah was dealt another blow just before the season when an expected starter, grad transfer Manny Bowen, surprisingly retired from football to pursue a business career.

Lloyd was eager for the opportunity to step in as a starter after playing but not starting in all 12 games last season.

His attitude this season?

“We can do a lot of good things so I don’t want to be the one holding us back,” Lloyd said. “I knew I had to take advantage of my time. It all starts in the hard work you put in the offseason.”

The linebacker crew is generally among the last to leave the practice field, and Lloyd said he and Bernard spend time on their own working on stuff. Lloyd is grateful for the help he’s received from his teammates and coaches.

“If you want to elevate your game and want to do more than average, you have to do stuff on your own,” Lloyd said. “We (he and Bernard) see eye to eye. I’m not satisfied with any area of my game. I feel like I can get better on every aspect.”

That should be very exciting news for the Utes.

“We weren’t sure how our ‘backers were going to look this year because we lost Chase and Cody,” Blackmon said. “The whole spring and the whole fall camp, I was telling everybody, ‘Devin Lloyd is going to step up.’”

“We already knew about Francis, but I knew Devin Lloyd was going to be one of those guys who was going to have a breakout year. He’s peen playing really well for us and we just want him to keep on being successful at whatever he does.”

Blackmon called Bernard and Lloyd a “pretty dirty” combo.

That is a playful and respectful compliment, by the way.

“They’re both really athletic so they can fit different schemes and they’re really smart players,” Blackmon said. “Just having those guys in certain situations gives us a lot of leverage. It’s kind of hard to throw over the top of them, so it’s nice.”

Lloyd, the rover linebacker, is 6-foot-3. Bernard, who plays the mac linebacker position, stands 6-foot-1.

Those two have helped the Utes limit their first five opponents to only 20 offensive points.

In that time, Lloyd has posted a career-high number of tackles (10 vs. NIU), has led the D or tied for the lead in three of five games and has made the 10th-most tackles in the Pac-12. He’s also second in the conference with 4.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.

There’s only one stat he’s focused on: the wins column.

“Twenty points in the games we’ve played, that’s great. Let’s keep that up,” he said. “Hopefully we don’t give up any more points all year. That’s our goal. At the end of the day the most important stat is a W.”