Yes, this will hurt

By By Natalie Dicou and By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

Little did Kyle Whittingham know — as he stood over Matt Asiata shortly after the Utes’ starting running back broke his leg — that Asiata’s injury was a mere foreshadowing of the nightmare to come.

After Asiata went down, seven athletic trainers and medics wearing both Utah and Oregon State colors formed a huddle around the fallen running back.

Whittingham watched the scene from a few feet away with his hands on his hips and a grim expression on his face.

He knew it was bad. You don’t need to spend your entire life involved in sports to know that seven people don’t crowd around a player with a bruised thigh or a sprained ankle.

Sure enough, Asiata, the Utes’ sole hope to improve last year’s dismal running game, was out for the season.

The first quarter of the year was still in progress and already plan A was out the window.

But the Utes regrouped. After all, the show must go on.

Minutes later, before the consequences of Asiata’s injury had fully sunken in, another key Utah player met his own untimely demise.

Brian Johnson, playing in his first game since tearing his ACL two seasons ago, separated his shoulder.

The s*** had officially hit the fan.

It didn’t take long for the casualties to pile up. In week one, the Utes’ offensive one-two punch was sidelined. In week two, junior wide receiver Brent Casteel tore his ACL.

In all, seven players, including five starters, have been injured since fall camp kicked off in early August. Four are out for the season.

In all his years of coaching football, Whittingham has never encountered such a devastating pandemic of injuries.

Sure, there’s the occasional year when a couple of guys tear ACLs during the course of a 12-game season. Those years are unfortunate.

But this?

Absurd. Freakish. Unlucky as hell.

The Utes have yet to play their third game of the year and already they’ve sustained several seasons’ worth of injuries.

The Utes’ fall from grace was abrupt. It’s been made worse by the fact that only a few short seasons ago they were on top of the world.

In 2004, Rice-Eccles Stadium was a place of joyous revelry. Now look at the place.

It’s filled with depressed players, stalking the sidelines with their arms in slings and their legs in braces.

It’s almost as if some sort of a deal was made with a magical dwarf like Rumpelstiltskin. The arrangement? A golden 2004 in exchange for grave suffering down the road.

Now, the little devil has come to collect the debt for the miraculous Fiesta Bowl season in which nary a Ute starter was seriously injured all year.

Can you imagine what would have happened to the Utes’ BCS hopes if Alex Smith, Morgan Scalley and Eric Weddle had broken, torn or separated key body parts?

Three words: Las Vegas Bowl.

Luckily, the injury bug spared the Utes back in 2004.

This year, the infestation is darkening the sky.

The 2007 Ute football team is a lot like Samuel L. Jackson’s character in the movie “Unbreakable.” He can’t walk down the street without snapping a limb or sustaining some sort of catastrophic injury.

Every time the Utes take the field, I think of the scene in which the glass-boned Jackson character is poised to walk down a staircase. It’s clear that the poor guy is about to take a horrible spill and shatter his brittle bones.

Sure enough, he tumbles down the stairs.

And sure enough, Casteel tore his ACL right before my eyes.

Sitting there at Saturday’s game, I felt like an overprotective mother covering her eyes and anxiously watching her precious son play football through her fingers.

This week, when No. 11 UCLA comes to town, I’ll be watching the game through my fingers for different reasons.

Some philosophers believe that time is an illusion — that it’s 2007 in our reality but 2004 elsewhere.

In another dimension, Alex Smith is leading the Utes out onto the field at the Fiesta Bowl right now.

The team is fit as a fiddle — not an ever-expanding injury report.

It’s only a dimension away. Close your eyes and go there.

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