San Diego State Football: First Look at the Utah Utes
The Aztecs will host the Utes in a key non-conference matchup this fall. Here’s an early preview of what to know about Utah football.
A rigorous test for former Mountain West foes.
San Diego State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
It’s been a decade since the Utah Utes left the Mountain West behind, which means it’s been a decade since they’ve clashed with the San Diego State Aztecs. A lot has changed for both program since the conclusion of a conference series that was largely one-sided.
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah
2020 Record: 3-2 (3-2 Pac-12)
Head Coach: Kyle Whittingham (17th year; 134-66 overall). There are few institutions in college football like Whittingham, who is now one of the four longest-tenured coaches in the country thanks to consistent excellence year after year. The Utes have had seven winning seasons in a row now and, after nearly breaking through to a Pac-12 title in 2019, avoided a prolonged hangover by winning their last three games of the truncated 2020 campaign.
As you might expect, Utah should be right back in the mix as a conference title contender. San Diego State will need its A-game to turn the historical tide in this one.
LB Devin Lloyd
The Utes have a handful of legitimate 2022 NFL Draft prospects, but Lloyd just might be the cream of the crop. He led Utah with 48 total tackles in 2020, the second straight season he’s done so, but he terrorized backfields across the Pac-12 with ten tackles for loss and two sacks, as well. He’s likely to be the Aztec offensive line’s toughest assignment in 2021.
Insanely talented play from Utah LB Devin Lloyd pic.twitter.com/AT1lUxdkbH
— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) December 12, 2020
LB Nephi Sewell
As if dealing with Lloyd was enough, Sewell stepped up to make Utah’s linebacker unit that much better in 2020. He finished second on the defense with 40 tackles and provided a different kind of disruption at the position with five tackles for loss, two passes defended, and two interceptions. If the Aztecs are slow to get the ground game going, Sewell is likely to be a significant reason why.
QB Charlie Brewer
While no one has wrapped up the QB1 job just yet, Brewer is widely considered the front-runner based on the lengthy resume he built up across 39 starts at Baylor. For his career, Brewer owns a 63.5% completion rate and has thrown for 9,700 yards (7.4 yards per attempt) and 68 touchdowns, so though the Utes aren’t typically identified with an explosive passing game, he could find himself in a position to change that.
TE Brant Kuithe
Perhaps no one in the offense could benefit more from improved quarterback play than the tight end from Katy, Texas. He led the Utes with 25 receptions in 2020 and has averaged 13.5 yards per catch in his career while earning two appearances on the all-Pac 12 second team. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Kuithe doesn’t have the size of a prototypical tight end but there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to contribute as an efficiency option.
CB Clark Phillips III
The Utes quietly underwent a pretty substantial youth movement on defense and Phillips might be the most emblematic example of its long-term potential. After arriving in Salt Lake City as the top recruit from Utah’s 2020 class (not to mention, according to 247Sports, the top recruit in Utah history), he started all five games as a true freshman and only got better as the season progressed, finishing the year with 25 tackles, two tackles for loss and an interceptions.
For a program with a healthy track record of developing defensive back talent, Phillips is already in a great position to be the next in line over the next few years.
As always, what the Utes lacked in flash last fall they made up for with all-around competency. They finished sixth in the Pac-12 by yards per play and 79th in offensive points per drive, but reinforcements could prime this unit for a surge.
Brewer is the biggest name in from the transfer portal, but wide receiver Theo Howard and running back TJ Pledger both came in Oklahoma while Chris Curry transferred from LSU and all could play an important role.
As far as names back for another go-around, Britain Covey led the Utes with 264 receiving yards and may have finally exhausted his eligibility by the end of 2021. The entire offensive line, led by guard Satatoa Laumea and center Nick Ford, is also back and looks ready to help Utah battle regression.
This unit has potential stars everywhere. Up front, Viane Moala anchors a deep defensive line that combines veteran talents like Maxs Tupai and Mika Tafua with its own up-and-comers like Xavier Carlton. With Lloyd and Sewell locked in behind them, the defensive front appears more or less set.
If there’s any possible hindrance, it’s whether the learning curve among the young talent in the secondary has any bumps. Phillips, JaTravis Broughton, Malone Mataele, and Kamo’i Latu are all either freshmen or sophomores and while they helped to spur the Utes’ late-season surge, good passing attacks could find a way to test them. Whether the Aztecs fit that description or not is a little more dubious.
Even if the Aztecs play up to their potential, it looks like the San Diego State offense won’t have the horses to keep up with what should be a very good Utah defense. I expect it’ll be a war of attrition, but the Utes should have the playmakers to land just enough blows and keep SDSU at arm’s length in the late game.
Utah 28, San Diego State 14