With game day just two days away, the Utes and their fans are eager to face Montana State in their season opener. Coach Whittingham has chosen a starting defense that should be more than up to the task.
Most football fans consider the linebacker corps to really be the unit around which the defense revolves. This is because linebackers are in the unique position to blitz the quarterback, defend against the run and have big play potential to defend against the pass.
So with that understanding, I will start my analysis of the Utes defense at the linebacker position.
The linebackers are anchored by senior Chaz Walker. Walker started all 13 games of 2010 and had a monster 113 tackles. He was the leading tackler for the Utes and the second leading tackler in the Mountain West Conference.
Walker is supported by All-American candidate Brian Blechen. Blechen was recruited as a quarterback and then moved to safety where he thrived. His understanding of the game and great strength and speed made him an ideal linebacker and the move was made.
Senior Matt Martinez will be the third linebacker to start. Martinez started all 13 games as the rover linebacker in 2010 and was the second lading tackler for the Utes at 91.
This is the core of the Utah defense. In a very run oriented PAC-12 conference, they need to have a big year for the Utes to do well this season.
The secondary is the big question here. Montana State does have an exceptional quarterback in Denarius McGhee. McGhee passed for over 3,000 yards last season, so he should give the secondary a decent test for the PAC-12 passers.
JC transfer Keith McGill, True Freshman Eric Rowe, and Michael Walker are the starters for the secondary. This is an untested but not untalented group. There are certain to be adjustments needed to get them where Whittingham wants them. They have an excellent coach in Morgan Scalley who played for the Utes as a starter and a team captain on the original BCS busting team.
The secondary will also feature senior Conroy Black, junior Reggie Topps and sophomore Mike Honeycutt depending on if they are in a prevent type defense and have more defensive backs on the field.
The defensive line has a new coach in Chad Kauha'aha'a.
The line consists of:
Junior Dave Kruger is 6'5" and weighs in at 285 pounds. He will start at tackle. Kruger played all 26 games of the last two seasons and started in 17 of them.
His brother Joe Kruger is at left end. The 6'7" 270 pound defensive end is a wrecking machine. Even at that size he still runs a 4.7 40. He played as a true freshman in all 13 games of last season.
Derrick Shelby will start at right end. The senior has a lot of experience and has started in 27 of 34 games during his career at Utah.
The nose tackle will be Star Lotulelei. The 6'3" 325 pound junior is a powerful physical presence in the center of the line. Lotulelei played in all 13 games and earned starting spot at last season.
The defense looks solid. In two days we will see how well they play as a unit. Then, of course, we can have a better idea of how well they might match up with USC.