2020 Utes Defensive Preview

by Zach Reger | After bolstering the 2nd ranked total defense in the FBS last season, just a few changes are coming to the Utes defense in 2020. Six members of that stellar Utes defense got drafted, and Defensive Coordinator Morgan Scalley will be responsible for replacing nine starters. Scalley is now entering his 13th season as a coach on the Utah staff, and fifth season as the Defensive Coordinator. Will he be able to reload his defense and have them ready for the 2020 season?

Defensive Line

The projected starting four on the defensive line from left to right is Mufi Hill-Hunt, Hauati Pututau, Viane Moala, Mike Tafua. Tafua is the leader of this group and was honorable mention All-Pac 12 at right end last season. Tafua also tied for the FBS lead with four forced fumbles. The other defensive end, Mufi Hill-Hunt, is a little raw but has talent. He only played in two games last season but spent three seasons at Michigan State. He has had some injury history but has shown that if he can stay on the field, he will be a force rushing the weak side. The interior defensive line has plenty of experience and size. Moala and Pututau only combine for one start, but they each played in every game last season. They are also both over 310 lbs., so they will make it difficult for opposing teams to run the ball up the middle.

Linebackers

The linebacker group will revolve around honorable mention All-Pac 12 linebacker, Devin Lloyd. The 6’3, 225 lb. linebacker led the Utes last season with 91 tackles. He was also second on the team in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (11). There will be a battle for the second linebacker spot next to Lloyd. The early favorite for the position is Nephi Sewell. He will be able to play the Rover Linebacker spot well, as he is a quick and athletic player moving from Safety. He played in 3 games last year and started in the Alamo Bowl. The other two players competing for this role are Sione Lund and Andrew Mata’afa. Lund, a former Stanford transfer, played in 8 games on defense. Unfortunately, he was suspended in March for violating team rules, making his chance to win the job slim. Mata’afa has good size at 225 lbs. and played in seven games last season.

Secondary

Both other position groups have one starter returning this season: Tafua and Lloyd. The secondary is replacing all five of their spots in this season, yet there is still a lot of hope for this group. The primary reason for that: Clark Phillips III. The physical, four-star cornerback is the highest-rated recruit in Utah history. He switched from DBU in Ohio State to come play in Salt Lake City. He has said that he loves the stability of the coaching staff and the opportunity to play and contribute right away. Phillips III coming to Utah says a lot about the progress that this program has made since his primary goal is still to win championships. The other cornerback spots will most likely be filled by Bronson Boyd and JaTravis Broughton. Boyd is the only member of the Utes secondary that started a game in 2019. He switched from WR but was a heavy special teams’ contributor. Broughton played 4 games on defense but also contributed on special teams in 2019. Both Boyd and Broughton have good height at 6’0.  The projected 2020 safeties are RJ Hubert and Vonte Davis. Hubert, the Free Safety, is a smart player as he was Pac-12 All-Academic last season. He also appeared in 10 games in 2019. Vonte Davis, the projected Strong Safety, played 6 games on defense last season. Both Hubert and Davis are also 6’0, so opposing quarterbacks will have a difficult time throwing the ball over the tall Utes secondary in 2020. DC Morgan Scalley is also the primary Safety coach, so he will have the secondary room well-coached and prepared for the upcoming season.

Featured image courtesy Athlon Sports.

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