Here are five things Texas fans need to know about No. 11 Utah as the Longhorns’ Alamo Bowl reservation approaches:
Utah’s top safeties will not be active
Utah’s two best free safeties on the roster have been ruled out due to injuries from the Pac-12 title game, head coach Kyle Whittingham said during an Alamo Bowl press conference.
Senior free safety Julian Blackmon’s first-team All-Pac-12 nod isn’t nearly enough to sum up his contributions this year. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just five receptions on 324 coverage snaps. Blackmon also added four interceptions –– one of which was returned for a 39-yard touchdown against BYU –– 60 total tackles, two forced fumbles and four pass breakups.
Blackmon is also PFF’s highest-graded player for the Utes (89.6) and is ranked as the No. 4 free safety among the 198 players with at least 150 snaps at the position.
Unfortunately for the Utes, Blackmon’s backup, R.J. Hubert, is also out for the bowl game. Hubert was featured on special teams in 12 games along with three starts out of his nine defensive appearances this year, recording 22 total tackles, one forced fumble and a pass deflection.
These losses would hurt any team in the country, even this Utah squad that boasts the best defense in the Pac-12.
Utah’s senior DL is going to be a problem
For a Texas team that has given up 33 sacks this season, Utah senior defensive lineman Bradlee Anae could spell trouble for Texas.
This isn’t exactly the Longhorns’ best offensive line in program history. It’s far from it. That was evident during the Red River Showdown, when they gave up nine sacks against the Sooners, tying the record for the most sacks given up in program history.
Anae, a first-team All-Pac-12 defensive end, recorded 12.5 sacks this season. His senior campaign launches him to 29 career sacks, which is tied for the school record.
He also added 35 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery. There’s a reason ESPN featured Anae against Texas offensive tackle Samuel Cosmi as one of the top matchups to watch this bowl season. If anybody on the line can handle Anae, it’s going to be Cosmi, the second-team All-Big 12 selection.
A lethal QB-RB combo
Utah landed three players on the All-Pac-12 first team, which isn’t exactly ideal for a Texas defense that just lost its defensive coordinator.
Utah running back Zack Moss, who earned Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year honors, is the only Ute in school history to post three 1,000-yard rushing seasons. His numbers this season –– 1,359 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns –– also helped him shatter five school records.
Moss now holds the school career records for touchdowns (41), rushing yards (4,010), rushing touchdowns (38), 100-yard games (19) and carries (696). The senior racked up eight 100-yard performances this year, including a 203-yard show against Arizona.
Throw Tyler Huntley, the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback, into the equation and this offense is deadly. Huntley has thrown for 2,966 yards, 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions on 278 attempts, giving him the edge over Sam Ehlinger (7.9 yards per throw) with 10.7 yards per attempt.
Combined, Huntley and Moss are the reason Utah leads the Pac-12 in rushing yards per game (207) and rushing touchdowns (34).
Texas’ offense has 99 problems, and Utah’s defense just might be all of them
Even with Blackmon and Hubert out, this Utah defense could give Texas fits depending on which Longhorns offense shows up to the Alamodome.
The Utes landed five defensive players on the All-Pac-12 first team, which is a big reason why they limited opponents to a mere 13.2 points per game, a conference-best mark.
Utah’s defensive players on the All-Pac-12 first team include defensive linemen Anae and Leki Fotu, linebacker Francis Bernard, defensive back Jaylon Johnson Jr. and Blackmon.
The Utah defense is also consistently limiting opponents under the century mark in rushing for an average of 70.3 yards per game.
For an inconsistent offense that features a shaky run game, this matchup doesn’t exactly favor Texas.
A head coach who thrives during bowl season
Whittingham, the Pac-12 Coach of the Year, is looking to polish off his fifth 10-win season at Utah.
For Texas fans searching for Utah to pull the same unmotivated card Georgia fans pulled following the Bulldogs’ loss in the Sugar Bowl last year, don’t hold your breath.
Whittingham’s success in bowl games dates back to the 2004 season, when he co-coached with Urban Meyer in the Utes’ Fiesta Bowl win. He’s followed it up with an impressive 11-2 bowl record over the next 15 years.