Breaking in the backups

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

There are only two ways to go after a drubbing like the one Utah suffered at the hands of Oregon State Thursday night.

The Utes can either tuck tail and bide their time until quarterback Brian Johnson returns from a shoulder injury or they can press forward with backup quarterback Tommy Grady at the helm and hope to sneak away with a couple wins in the coming weeks.

The Utes would prefer the latter.

“We’ve got some problems to solve now,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. The bottom line is business and we need to get some things resolved.”

The biggest problem obviously revolves around the quarterback position, where Grady is attempting to fill the shoes of the nimble Johnson. The 6-foot-7 senior didn’t have too much luck in reserve duty against Oregon State, completing only nine of 24 passes for 59 yards.

The loss of Johnson, who is expected to miss four to five weeks, greatly limits the Utes’ playbook. Whittingham made it clear earlier this offseason that much of the U’s offense would revolve around Johnson and his ability to run the option.

“We’re expecting to run a heavy dose of option this year,” Whittingham said in a press conference earlier this offseason. “Brian just adds a new dimension to our offense and we’re going to take advantage of it.”

Prior to the match against Oregon State, Whittingham had said that if he were the Beavers’ coaching staff, he would “ignore last season and look at the 2005 season and have it cut up, broken down and analyzed.”

Whittingham was referring to the last time Johnson ran the offense, as he sat out last season nursing a torn ACL.

Now that Grady is under center, opponents may want to look at last year’s game footage, when the less-mobile Brett Ratliff was in command of the offense.

“Obviously I didn’t want this to happen, but things happen in football,” Grady said after the game. “I have a lot of confidence in this offense and in the players and in myself and I’m just going to come in on Monday and work hard.”

Another one of those deficiencies, and perhaps the reason Grady struggled, was the lack of a running game. The Ute offense suffered yet another huge blow against the Beavers when highly-touted running back Matt Asiata broke both the tibia and the fibula in his right leg. The junior rushed the ball four times for 16 yards before succumbing to the season-ending injury late in the first quarter. As a team, the Utes rushed for a total of 18 yards and were led by junior Ray Stowers, who rushed the ball 11 times for 26 yards.

Stowers is expected to start against Air Force with senior Darryl Poston coming in on relief duty. Darrell Mack, who was scheduled to redshirt this season, will also be thrown into the mix as a result of Asiata’s injury.

“We had some guys banged up tonight, but we’ve got to overcome that,” Whittingham said after the game. “If one guy goes down, the next guy has to step up and get it done. That’s football.”

How the Utes move forward from here may very well rely on Stowers and Grady and how they respond to being the go-to guys.

Although losing Johnson hurts the Utes, it couldn’t have come at a better time in the schedule. Although the Utes do play host to Air Force and No. 14 UCLA, the Utes will face the weakest part of the schedule when they go on the road against UNLV and then host Utah State in the coming weeks.

“We’re a work in progress — I know that for sure,” Whittingham said. “We’ve got to get our issues resolved by next week. We’ve got our home opener and conference opener against Air Force and we have to get our deficiencies figured out before then.”

[email protected]