Morgan Scalley has Utah’s defense reaching new heights

Morgan Scalley has Utah’s defense reaching new heights

(Colter Peterson, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — There are few people in the world as passionate about Utah football as defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.

To the former safety product out of Highland High, the University of Utah isn’t just a stepping stone to a “greater” venue in the collegiate world or even the NFL. He’s not content with simply accepting a paycheck each month for as long as they keep getting deposited into his bank account, though in the coaching world that isn’t always a guarantee.

For Scalley, Utah is home.

It’s where he’s spent nearly half his life as a student-athlete and football coach; it’s a place where he grew as a football player and was eventually named the 2004 Mountain West co-Defensive Player of the Year while he led the team as captain to the first “BCS Busting” undefeated season and Fiesta Bowl win for the Utes.

It’s where Scalley honed his football skills on the field and eventually showed promise as a rising star in the coaching ranks; it’s where he went from being named the first-ever Deseret News Mr. Football while playing at Highland High to becoming an adult and learning all he needed to know about life.

Now 18 years later since stepping foot on campus as a student-athlete for the first time, Scalley has sewn his passion into the program and has led the defensive side of the ball to a top-five ranking in the country. That passion and exuberance for the program are now felt through his players and the coaches he oversees.

That was most evident Saturday as Utah claimed a decisive 21-3 victory over the visiting Arizona State Sun Devils.

From kickoff to when the final whistle was blown, Utah’s defense put on a show in the rain for the announced crowd of 46,402, one worthy of being Utah’s best performance in Pac-12 history, and arguably the best in head coach Kyle Whittingham’s tenure with the program.

“Our defense was lights out tonight,” Whittingham said after Saturday’s game. “The defensive backfield was outstanding. Pass defense starts at the line of scrimmage; our front four applied pressure all night long and never let the quarterback get comfortable. I can't remember a better defensive effort, certainly not as of late.”

Led by senior defensive end Bradlee Anae’s three sacks, the defensive line pressured Arizona State freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels, a rising star in the Pac-12, and limited him to only 25 passing yards and one interception on 4-of-18 passing. The Sun Devils offense, as a whole, only managed 136 yards of total offense and 3 points on the night.

That’s only the sixth time since Utah joined the Pac-12 that it has held a Power Five program to single scoring digits, and the only time to hold a ranked team to less than 150 total yards in at least the last 15 years. In fact, it’s only the sixth time in at least 15 years that Utah has held a Football Bowl Subdivision team to less than 200 total yards in a game.

That single-digit score snapped Arizona State’s streak of 125 consecutive games where they’ve scored at least 10 points, which was one game shy of breaking the FBS modern-era record.

The Sun Devils were held to six three-and-out drives out of 13 total series, and their longest drive totaled 28 yards. Arizona State was held to single-digit yardage on seven drives and was twice held to negative yardage. The program’s lone made field goal of the game came on a Utah turnover on the 22-yard line — that drive featured a 4-yard loss to keep the Sun Devils from threatening a touchdown.

The defense has only given up one touchdown in the last 10 quarters of play, a garbage-time touchdown from Oregon State in the final minute of the game against backup players. Teams, as Arizona State found out Saturday, have a difficult time combatting a locked-in defense that is bringing new blitz looks and creative techniques to apply pressure.

There’s been bumps and bruises along the way — a loss to USC being the prime example — but Scalley has grown in the defense and has shown he is adaptable to the changing schemes of the teams Utah faces each week. Since an embarrassing performance against the Trojans, few teams have been able to move the ball against Utah.

And although Utah’s offense has made tremendous strides in 2019 under the direction of Andy Ludwig and is beating teams by no less than 18 points, Scalley’s defense has been equally dominant and has given the Utes what they needed to limit opposing offenses, even ones that led the country in passing yards such as Washington State.

The defensive unit takes pride in what it does, but never allows the highs get too high. Even after being a menacing force in the face of Daniels all night, Anae humbly said: “It’s a pretty deserving night for the defense.”

“Coach Scalley had a great scheme set up for us, and so we just went out there and executed as a defense, and it was a great night for us,” he added.

Scalley has made an already defensive-minded program into an even better defensive program and taking the program to new heights. But in the end, Scalley is a “Utah Man Am I” and those around him embody everything he preaches.

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Josh is the Sports Director for and beat writer covering University of Utah athletics — primarily football, men’s and women's basketball and gymnastics. He is also an Associated Press Top 25 voter for college football.


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