On the mend

By By Tony Pizza

By Tony Pizza

Stating that an athlete would like to avoid an injury at all costs is hardly a profound revelation, but if an injury was inevitable, it probably couldn’t have been timelier for Kelly Talavou.

Talavou injured his knee during the Utes’ loss to New Mexico on Oct. 19, but when the All-Conference candidate returns against Colorado State on Saturday, UNLV will remain the only game the defensive tackle will miss.

“I’d hate to have to see him go through his senior year and losing-you know if you’re going to get hurt, then I guess he got hurt at a good time,” defensive coordinator Gary Anderson said.

With the New Mexico game being on a Thursday and the Utes’ getting a bye week after the UNLV game, come Saturday, Talavou will have had 22 days to recover and build up strength after his injury. To have only missed one game in that span is not only big for the Utes, but especially big for an All-Conference-caliber player like Talavou.

So far, Talavou has accumulated 37 tackles-6.5 of which are for losses, including three sacks-making the 6-foot-2, 319-pound senior a valuable commodity on any team at the next level.

“There’s a lot of guys coming through here?there’s a lot of pro scouts coming through here,” Anderson said. “I think there’s two or three kids that are going to have an opportunity-we’ll see how it all boils down-but they’re taking a long hard look at Kelly and Paul Soliai.”

Because of Talavou’s size, strength, leadership and work ethic, he will continue to be the focus of many scouts who come through Utah. Undoubtedly, Utah’s final three games will go far in landing him in front of NFL scouts at the combine, or during workouts next spring.

“He missed the UNLV game, but then we had a bye week and he gets to come back for his last three?and it’s important-I believe these next three games are very important for Kelly’s future, so he needs to play well,” Anderson said.

It probably goes without saying, but having Talavou in the starting lineup for the last three games will be a tremendous plus for the Utes, too.

The combination of Talavou and Soliai is instrumental to the way Utah would like to assert itself on defense.

Both linemen are so quick and strong off the line that if they aren’t making plays in the backfield, they are constantly disrupting what the other team is trying to do on offense.

Needless to say, without Talavou, Soliai’s job becomes twice as hard because teams only have to focus on one stud defensive tackle instead of two. This drastically alters the Utes’ ability to push the line back and put pressure in the backfield, which translates to the running and passing games being that much more effective.

Not only is Talavou a great player, but he has established himself as a great leader on the defense, as well. Having another team captain on the field, and one who plays with as much emotion and passion as Talavou, can only help a team while simultaneously intimidating the U’s opponent.

“It’ll be big. It’ll be big. From leadership, depth and everything that comes down from a senior All-Conference player (Talavou), that’s what you get back,” Anderson said. “All the way from No. 1 to No. 10, you get them all, all those little steps in between. He does a great job of all of them-so it’s great to get him back, and it’s great for him.”

On a similar note, the bye week seemed to be just what the doctor ordered-literally. Head coach Kyle Whittingham deemed that the entire football team-with the exception of tailback Mike Liti, who is out for the season with a knee injury-should be ready to play against Colorado State. This is good news, especially in the home stretch for a team that has played through a sizeable portion of injuries all season long.

Christopher Peddecord

Kelly Talavou celebrates a Utah fumble recovery against TCU on Oct. 5. Talavou injured his left knee earlier this season but will return to the field for Saturday’s game against Colorado State.