Breaking the fall

By By Cody Brunner and By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Two weeks have passed since the beginning of the season, and the U football team is already hurting heading into the UCLA game — not just in performance, but in injuries sustained as well.

In total, five starters have been sidelined because of serious injuries.

Setting off the domino effect in fall camp was senior offensive lineman Jason Boone tearing his anterior cruciate ligament. Then the season started.

Linebacker Matt Martinez, running back Matt Asiata, tight end Colt Sampson and quarterback Brian Johnson all succumbed to fluke injuries against Oregon State. Then, against Air Force, defensive tackle Gabe Long sprained his knee and Utah’s biggest offensive threat left, Brent Casteel, went down with the seemingly contagious ACL tear.

“The nature of the injuries we are having, there’s nothing you can do to prevent or ready yourself for them,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. “They are freak injuries.”

Freakish or not, the Utes have to try to find a way to move forward without a few of their stars. The Utah offense didn’t cope with the loss of Johnson and Asiata well against Air Force last week, compiling 313 total yards and 12 points.

“We’re in a situation where we’re dealing with adversity and there’s only one way out of adversity, and that’s to fight your way out,” Whittingham said. “So, we’ve got to stand up and pick up our battle sword and go. There is no magic fairy that is going to come down, tap us on the head and make everything alright again. We’re going to have to fight our way out.”

The fallout from the plethora of ailments has left the Utes scrounging for starters.

As quarterback, Tommy Grady has been less than impressive in seven quarters of action. The senior has completed 46 percent of his passes and thrown two interceptions. However, Grady showed signs of improvement towards the end of the Air Force game, completing 11 of his last 15 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown.

“If he continues to progress and carry that momentum into the UCLA game, he’s going to do some good things for us,” Whittingham said. “The first half was subpar and the second half was what I expected.”

Although Casteel was the focal point of the Utes’ offense, the wide receiver position is one of the deepest areas on the team. Junior Marquis Wilson is expected to fill the void left by Casteel’s departure.

Perhaps the Utes’ biggest problem, though, is the fact that through two games they still haven’t rushed for over 100 total yards. The loss of Asiata, who was a juco all-American before coming to the U, has left the position up in air and none of the other backs has emerged as the go-to guy yet.

“The separation that we hoped to see in that football game did not occur,” Whittingham said. “Darrell Mack is probably going to be our starter (against UCLA). It’s not definitive right now, but that’s probably the direction we’re going to head. It’s unfortunate that we have not been able to get that thing sorted out yet, but we’ve got a lot of football left and we’re hoping to get some separation there.”

The Utes also juggled some players on the defensive line — partly because of Long’s injury and partly because of the Utes’ ineffective run defense. Freshman Paul Kruger has succeeded in securing a starting defensive end position, beating out senior Martail Burnett. Other changes include junior Greg Newman starting at defensive tackle and sophomore Koa Misi starting at end.

“We’re trying to get our best 11 out there,” Whittingham said. “Not our 11 best players, but the 11 who are playing the best. Based on the game films of the first two weeks, we think what we are putting on the field are the guys who are playing the best football for us.”

The Bruins carry a formidable two-pronged running attack into Rice-Eccles Stadium tomorrow. UCLA junior Kahlil Bell and senior Chris Markey have combined for 395 yards and two touchdowns this season and have been the driving force behind the Bruins’ 2-0 record.

“Kahlil is more powerful, more of the straight downhill runner,” said UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell. “He has some shiftiness to him and can elude, but he definitely has the power aspect to him, while Chris is more of a slasher and more the niftier footwork kind of guy.”

Behind center for the Bruins is junior Ben Olson. Last year, Olson led a season-opening 31-10 route of the Utes, passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns.

Defensively, UCLA is led by playmaking end Bruce Davis. The senior was named a first-team all-American by College Football News and SI.com in 2006 after recording 12.5 sacks and 47 tackles. This season, Davis is on another tear, recording two sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in two games. Shouldering the responsibility of handling Davis for the Utes is offensive tackle Zane Beadles.

“He’s kind of undersized for a defensive end, but he may be the fastest guy I’ll face all year,” Beadles said. “He’s an All-American and a great player, so it’s going to be a challenge this week.”

Utah fans, on the other hand, might be more familiar with playmaking cornerback Rodney Van, who returned an interception for a touchdown against the Utes a year ago. Van is joined at cornerback by senior Trey Brown, who has recorded nine pass breakups and one interception in two games.

The Bruins’ pass defense was one of the few weaknesses in its recent 27-17 win over BYU. It allowed the Cougars’ Max Hall to throw for 391 yards and two touchdowns.

Despite its slipups, UCLA still managed to eek out of the Rose Bowl with the win and keep its record flawless.

The No. 11 Bruins are the highest-ranked team the Utes have faced since the 2001 season, when they played No. 7 Oregon and No. 8 BYU.

“It is what it is, but we’ve got to have guys step up,” Whittingham said. “You know, I can’t sit here and tell you where we’re going to look, but we’ve got to have some players step up. We need some heroes in this program.”

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Lennie Mahler