October 7, 2009

Picking up the Rifle

Utah opens up conference play Saturday against Colorado State without arguably their most productive offensive player. Matt Asiata[db] tore ligaments in his right knee early against Louisville and will miss the rest of the season.

Despite the loss of their top running back, Utah will not change the offense much. The Utes will rely on [db]Eddie Wide and wide receiver Shaky Smithson to carry the load at running back while also involving quarterback Terrance Cain more in the running game. "We won't change much," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The offense is going to stay basically the same, we're going to utilize the strengths of our guys. Eddie isn't going to carry the ball 25 times a game like Matt, but he's a very capable runner who can handle 18 to 20 carries a game."

While Asiata was a powerful, downhill runner, Wide is almost the complete opposite. Though a capable inside runner, Wide relies more on speed and quickness rather than pure power to gain yards inside our bouncing the run outside and getting to the edge. "Eddie is a darter," Whittingham said. "He's got great quickness, great change of direction, he can start and stop on a dime, he's very Barry Sanders-ish. Not comparing him to Barry Sanders, but that style."

Sausan Shakerin is the listed backup to Wide but will likely miss another week with wrist and shoulder injuries. "Shak" is a big back (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) with breakaway speed but does not always play to his size due to his running style. Shakerin runs upright and tall, which takes away from some of his power and is something the Utah staff has been working on since he arrived on campus. "Shak has gotten better with his pad level," Whittingham said. "Still needs to work on it, he still runs a little bit upright, but you know, Eric Dickerson ran upright his whole career and it worked out alright. There are guys that have had that running style that are very successful. It's a constant effort on our part to try and get him to bring that pad level down. It's tough, some guys you can't change regardless; like quarterbacks you try to change deliveries but sometimes you just can't do it. The bottom line is production and efficiency. If he is efficient and productive running the way he's running that really is the thing that counts most. Shak is more of a power back that happens to have great speed. You saw that speed against San Jose State; the defenders had the angle on him and he almost outran that angle. He's equally adept at running inside and outside."

With Shakerin out, Utah will lean on Smithson to play more at running back. Smithson played virtually every offensive skill position in junior college and is very comfortable lining up in the backfield. Smithson is quick and fast with good size for the position. Smithson is best described as a hybrid of Wide and Asiata's styles. Smithson can make people miss and runs with surprising power. "It's exciting," Smithson said about playing running back. "It's just playing football. I've played running back my whole life. My goal is to get the ball into the endzone and play every play like it's my last." Smithson also knows how important the offensive line is. "I always rely on them no matter where I line up. They're the biggest part of the offense and should get all the credit."

Smithson is a versatile player who is still going to play receiver as well as spelling Wide at running back. Smithson will have some extra motivation to play well this weekend. "It's my grandma's birthday, this game is dedicated to her."



Notes:

With starting defensive tackle Lei Talamaivao out for 2-3 weeks with a leg injury, Sealver Siliga will step into the starting lineup. Utah will play four defensive tackles and converted offensive lineman Viliamu Nau will play as that fourth tackle. Nau is a very strong player who is finding a home on the defensive line.

Luke Matthews and DeVonte Christopher will see more time at receiver now that Smithson is splitting his reps between receiver and running back. "We have an ample supply of talented receivers," Whittingham said.

Victor Spikes became the first freshman of the 2009 class to play, getting time on special teams against Louisville. Spikes is now listed as the third free safety behind Robert Johnson and Greg Bird.


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