Previewing The Enemy: Utah Utes
Welcome to the Granddaddy of Them All.
No. 11 Penn State football (10-2, 7-2 Big Ten) is heading to California to face off with No. 8 Utah (10-3, 7-2 Pac-12) in the 109th Rose Bowl. It’s the fifth time the Nittany Lions have played in Pasadena, but they’re seeking what would be just their second win.
Before Monday rolls around, let’s take a closer look at the Pac-12 champion Utes, who have never faced off against Penn State.
This game will mark Utah’s second consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl as the Utes barely fell to Ohio State in a barnburner last year. After last year’s Pac-12-champion campaign, Utah entered the season with a No. 7 ranking.
The Utes have not fallen out of the top 20 since, despite dropping games to Florida, UCLA, and Oregon. The team’s two wins over USC dashed the Trojans’ playoff hopes and propelled it to back-to-back Pac-12 championships and another Rose Bowl bid.
This is head coach Kyle Whittingham’s 18th year in Salt Lake City and he has led the Utes to three conference titles during his career. He played college football at BYU and has other coaching experience at Eastern Utah and Idaho State.
Andy Ludwig is in his eighth year as offensive coordinator. Utah’s 40 points per game this year puts it in 3rd place in the Pac-12, and its 70 total touchdowns were tied for USC with the most in the conference. Its rushing offense is 10th-best in the country.
On defense, Morgan Scalley calls the shots. He’s in his seventh season at Utah, rounding out a staff under Whittingham that has stuck together for an impressive amount of time. The Utes’ 30% third-down allowance mark is No. 9 in the country.
Utah’s offense is spearheaded by star quarterback Cameron Rising, who was a semifinalist for both the Davey O’Brien Award and the Maxwell Award.
Rising nearly threw for 3,000 yards this season and completed 66% of his passes, logging 25 touchdowns and one interception. His 310-yard effort in the Pac-12 Championship earned him the game MVP award.
Rising’s favorite target, tight end Dalton Kincaid, will not play in the Rose Bowl. Sophomore wideout Devaughn Vele is expected to pick up his slack, as the San Diego, California, native racked up 595 yards and five scores through the air this season. Vele caught passes in 9 of the Utes’ 13 games and earned a Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention.
Money Parks and Jaylen Dixon round out Utah’s wide receiver room. Parks caught 25 passes for 402 yards and two scores while Dixon’s 27 catches netted 280 yards.
Tight end Thomas Yassmin will fill in for Kincaid at the No. 1 tight end spot. His five receiving touchdowns were second-most on the Utes and he put up 300 yards this season. Brant Kuithe made a great impact in the room this season, but he will miss the game with an injury.
Utah’s rushing offense has also been a force this season and averaged north of 220 ground yards per game. Three backs passed the 400-yard mark in 2022, but Tavion Thomas led the way with 687. He opted out of the Rose Bowl.
Micah Bernard and Ja’Quinden Jackson will fill in for Thomas in Pasadena. Jackson led the entire team with eight touchdowns on 65 attempts. Bernard had a heavier workload, logging 95 carries, which were good for 474 yards and four scores.
Utah’s 342 total first downs lead the country. James Franklin said earlier in December that offensive lineman Braeden Daniels was impressive on tape.
Utah’s safety tandem of Cole Bishop and RJ Hubert leads the way with 77 and 75 tackles, respectively. Hubert has three interceptions and two forced fumbles on the year while Bishop logged a sack and a half.
The Utes’ best defensive player, Clark Phillips III, opted out of the game. He racked up an impressive six interceptions and six passes defended during his final campaign in Salt Lake City. To round out the secondary, cornerback JaTravis Broughton added 41 tackles, a sack, and a pass breakup this season.
The strength of Utah’s defense is its physical run-stopping ability. It allows just 107 rushing yards per game, which is 16th best in the country. Linebacker Mohamoud Diabate impressed Franklin on tape, and his stats back the claim up. He added a team-high 12.5 tackles-for-loss along with five sacks.
Karene Reid leads the linebacker room with 68 total tackles. He also accrued four sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss this season. Lander Barton rounds out the room and he has 3.5 sacks up until this point. They were both identified by Franklin as impact-makers.
An impressive group of linemen completes Utah’s front seven. Defensive end Connor O’Toole and defensive tackle Junior Tafuna particularly impressed Penn State on film. O’Toole logged 4.5 tackles-for-loss this season, while Tafuna had 2.5 along with an interception.
Jonah Elliss and Simote Pepa are also players to watch out for as they recorded three and four sacks, respectively, this season. Defensive end Gabe Reid leads the team with 5.5 sacks and he’s also made 39 tackles up until this point.
Jordan Noyes and Jadon Redding have split kicking duties this season. Noyes made all his extra points in 2022, while Redding missed one of his 36 attempts. Neither has made a field goal longer than 45 yards and are a combined 10-for-14.
Jack Bouwmeester is averaging 38.9 yards on 34 punts this season. Vele is the punt returner and is averaging just shy of 10 yards per return this season.
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