When UCLA has the ball on Saturday, only one thing should be on their minds: watch out for Star. Star Lotulelei is the best defensive lineman in the country hands down. As a projected top five pick in the NFL draft and a preseason All-American, Star had a lot to live up to. Through five games, he not only has met every expectation, but exceeded them. There is really only one word to describe how good Lotulelei is: unblockable. College football hasn’t seen a force on the D-line as good as Star since Ndamukong Suh roamed the campus of the University of Nebraska. He is big, 6’4” 325 lbs, he is fast, agile, technically sound, and has a good motor. There is nothing Star can’t do. UCLA will be forced to send multiple looks and multiple bodies at him all game long. He proved in front of everyone last week, he simply cannot be blocked by anyone 1 on 1.
While Star gets all the attention, the Utes also return six others from a defense that ranked 19th nationally in scoring last season. The rest of the defensive line is led by the Kruger brothers, Dave and Joe and a core of talented others, including sophomore Nate Fakahafua and junior Tenny Palepoi. Despite what looks like a strong front four on paper, Utah has struggled a bit more stopping the run in 2012 and thus has slipped to 56th in scoring defense this season.
At linebacker, Trevor Reilly is the lone returner from the 2011 defense. Reilly, a 6’5” 245 pound junior, had 47 tackles and five sacks in 2011. Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham has already made it known that Reilly will play a major role in defending UCLA tight-end Joseph Fauria this week. At 6’8”, Fauria creates a mismatch for everyone, but Whittingham believes that Reilly is up to the task. Along with Reilly, Jared Norris and V.J. Feheko start at linebacker. Feheko has been particularly impressive thus far in 2012, and as a sophomore has a ton of upside.
The Utes also return two starters from the secondary that was the weakness of their 2011 defense. Ranking 74th in pass defense in 2011, the Utes were hoping for significant improvement in 2012. Five games in and they are still searching for answers. Against USC, Matt Barkley threw for over 300 yards and throughout the season, the defense has struggled to force turnovers. If Brett Hundley can avoid turning the ball over, expect a big day from the Bruins freshman quarterback.