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Utah’s Experienced Defensive Tackles Will Help Lead Defense In 2020

Viane Moala #98 of the Utah Utes chases Dorian Thompson-Robinson #1 of the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium on November 16, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The 2020 Utah football team will have experience at the defensive tackle positions with a pair of seniors projected to start this season.

Although the defensive tackles are not returning starters, they were in the rotation with Utah’s two starters last season with Leki Fotu and John Penisini.

The Crimson Corner is previewing each position group leading up to the 2020 college football season. We continue with the defensive tackles.

Returning Experience

Viane Moala was originally a walk-on but later received a scholarship as a transfer from Hawai’i. Moala played in all 14 games last season in a rotation behind Fotu and Penisini. His 6-6, 315-pound frame will help him in Utah’s stifling defensive line. Moala was a projected starter on Utah’s spring depth chart.

Hauati Pututau was also a backup last season but in a rotation with Moala. He played in every game last season including one start at right tackle against Northern Illinois in place of Leki Fotu. Pututau was a projected starter on Utah’s spring depth chart.

Pita Tonga has a lot of experience at defensive tackle through his career at Utah. The Highland High School product played in 11 games in 2017, appeared in 13 games with six starts in 2018 and played in 10 games last season. His leadership will be relied on to help the young Utah defense. Tonga was a projected backup on Utah’s spring depth chart.

Semisi Lauaki played in his first season with Utah in 2019 after returning from his mission. He played in three games against Idaho State, Colorado and the Alamo Bowl against Texas. Lauaki was a projected backup on Utah’s spring depth chart.

Big Shoes To Fill

Leki Fotu was an All-American last season while also being selected first team All-Pac-12 twice in his successful career at Utah. Fotu started in 28 of his 45 games played. The Herriman High School product was a fourth round draft pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2020 NFL Draft.

John Penisini was selected to the All-Pac-12 second team twice in the last two seasons with Utah. He started in 22 games while playing in a total of 40 contests. Penisini was taken in sixth round by the Detroit Lions in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Newcomers

Aliki Vimahi was originally recruited in 2017 as a defensive end and one of the top prospects in Hawai’i. He returned from serving a church mission and the coaches are potentially looking at putting him at defensive tackle after gaining some weight and growing while on his mission.

Tanoa Togiai was a late signee for the Utes on National Signing Day. The Rigby, Idaho native did not enroll during the spring but is expected to join the team for fall camp. He was a three-star prospect that has a high upside.

Starter Predictions

I think the two starter positions will go to Viane Moala at right tackle and Hauati Pututau at left tackle. The experienced they gained last season in a rotation with Leki Fotu and John Penisini has elevated their game.

Look for Pita Tonga and Semisi Lauaki to backup Moala and Pututau.

Trevor Allen is a Utah Utes Insider for KSLSports.com and host of the Crimson Corner podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorASportsYou can download and listen to the podcast, here.

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