Football Notebook

By By Bryan Chouinard

By Bryan Chouinard

Injury Update

The bye week came at just the right time for the Utes, who got hit by the injury bug in their game against Louisville before the break. Four starters (Matt Asiata, Zane Beadles, Lei Talamaivao and Joe Dale) were forced to leave the game against the Cardinals because of injuries, including a season-ending knee injury to Asiata, who had surgery Monday to repair his torn ACL. But the bye week gives the Utes time to heal before opening conference play against Colorado State this weekend. Talamaivao will be out for another two to three weeks with a fractured fibula, and Beadles will return this weekend after having a deep leg laceration stitched up during the break. Beadles suffered the 4-inch cut to his shin from a Louisville player’s cleat.

“I’ll be ready to go this week,” Beadles said. “It doesn’t hurt too bad, and it’s in a good spot where it doesn’t get pulled on too bad. It’s good to go.”

Guard Walter Watts re-aggravated a knee injury he had earlier in the year and is listed as questionable for this weekend’s contest. Redshirt freshman Sausan Shakerin is also listed as questionable with injuries to his shoulder and wrist. Shakerin was forced to miss Utah’s past two games against Oregon and Louisville and hopes to make his return this weekend.

Shake-up for Smithson

Junior Shaky Smithson spent much of his time as wideout during fall camp and the first three games of the season, but because of starting running back Matt Asiata’s injury, Smithson will begin to take reps with the running backs. At the receiver position, Smithson has nine receptions on the season and is averaging 6.2 yards per catch to this point. Against Louisville, Smithson had four carries for a total of 18 yards.

“(Smithson) took a lot of reps last week as a running back and that’s where his primary focus is right now,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “He’s still playing some wide receiver, but the bulk of his time is being spent at running back.”

With Asiata out for the year and Shakerin still listed as questionable for this weekend, Smithson is listed as the backup behind junior Eddie Wide, who is coming off his first career 100-yard rushing performance.

“Shaky is an interesting runner,” Whittingham said. “He has some experience at running back from junior college. He’s got some good size, he’s exceptionally quick, he’s kind of a mixture between Eddie (Wide) and Matt (Asiata). He’s not a pure power guy, but he’s not a guy that relies solely on speed and quickness.”

During his time at East Los Angeles, Smithson played both wide receiver and running back and led the team in both categories in 2008.

Your average Joe

Coming into the 2009 season, senior Ben Vroman was given the responsibility of filling in for departed four-year starter Louie Sakoda. However, after making his first field goal attempt of his career from 44 yards against Utah State, Vroman missed his next three attempts from 50, 53 and 36 yards, all against San Jose State. Since the SJSU game, junior college transfer Joe Phillips has won the job and is first in the Mountain West Conference in field goal percentage, going five-for-five on the season.

“It’s been crazy,” Phillips said. “It was bittersweet that first week that (Vroman and I) switched first string and second string. We’re all close, and we want to see each other succeed, but now that I’m in the starting position, it’s an enjoyable time.”

Phillips is coming off his strongest performance of the year against Louisville. The junior not only was a perfect three-for-three on the night, but also hit a career-long 48-yard field goal at the end of the first half. Phillips is also a perfect eight-for-eight on PATs this season.
“To have the confidence of the coaches is a huge factor,” Phillips said. “If you know that they believe that you can make the kick and that you’re going to do well, it really helps.”

Conference play gets under way

After finishing nonconference play at 3-1, the Utes now turn their attention to the Mountain West Conference for the remaining eight games of their schedule. Under Whittingham, Utah is 2-2 in conference openers and has alternated wins and losses for the past four years. With that said, Utah is also 4-0 under Whittingham after coming off a bye week. Even with the stellar record coming off the bye week, Whittingham still worries that rust might be an issue.

“I worry about everything every week,” Whittingham said. “What I can say is that our players do a nice job of focusing, concentrating and continuing to improve and get better rather than taking the “it’s a week off’ mentality.”

The Utes have won three straight meetings against their first conference foe of the season, Colorado State, and haven’t lost a game in the conference since BYU at the end of the 2007 season.

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