The recruiting season was relatively exhilarating after the two heartbreaking losses to end what looked to be a dream season. The defeats seemed to scream, “Utah has more talent than ever but it still is NOT an elite collection of talent.” The three losses this season were to athletically gifted teams that scored a lot more 4- and 5-star players than Utah could.
We all know the recruiting ranking aren’t always a good indicator of potential. WEDDLE! But Utah needs a much better O-Line talent to take the next step.
I was perusing PFF’s rankings of all FBS offensive lines since that’s where Utah really struggled against Oregon and Texas.
So after a whole year of watching the tape and ranking college lineman who graded out as the TOP PASS BLOCKER by PFF? Blake Brandel, who was just 257 pounds when he was at Portland’s Central Catholic High School and got just one major offer in 2015 – Oregon State.
Brandel allowed just five pressures on 473 pass-blocking snaps, as he anchored the blindside for Jake Luton brilliantly. That’s even better than Penei Sewell for Oregon, who deservedly gets a lot of national hype.
Brandel gives the credit for much of his success to Gus Lavaka, the left guard who also only had one offer out of Kearns High School in the Salt Lake Valley (to Hawaii). He went on a mission and then signed with OSU after he returned. Here’s a story about the lightly recruited stalwarts: For stability, Oregon State has never had a duo like seniors Blake Brandel and Gus Lavaka - oregonlive.com
Utah was the 70th best line, mostly due to their inability to pass protect. The Utes gave up a whopping 119 pressures on just 395 pass-blocking snaps for a 30.1% pressure rate that was the sixth-highest in the nation.
The highest-graded player was the only senior of the bunch – Darrin Paulo – 66.2 (159th in the country). So who will be Utah’s Brandel or Lavaka, a diamond in the rough who only had one offer. Utah’s coaches have a reputation for development and they’ll need to accelerate it if Utah wants to have a winning season with a far less experienced cast of characters in 2020.
After the Texas curbstomping, Isaac Asiata publicly placed his faith in the existing roster to develop into the line Utah needs.
“The returning 4 (Daniels, Umana, Ford, Moala) are unbelievably talented, and their benefit is that they’re young. It takes games like the past 2, to mold and improve players. Y’all act like Harding hasn’t been producing and developing talent every year he’s been at Utah.”
He went on the radio to defend the current O-Block and also tweeted: "In 2014, Myself, JJ, Sam Tevi and Young Garrett Bolles (JUCO at the time) were the furthest thing from Bonafide draft picks.
In 2015 (minus GB) we reached #3 in the nation, lost to SC and everyone said the same thing about us as you are about them.
2017 all of us were drafted."
Is Big Isaac right? Can Utah trust in Harding to develop the O-line?