Utes work through injuries to regain depth

By Liz Frome , Staff Writer

Game seven marks the start of the second half of the season, and the Utes are heading into Saturday’s game finally having a few options in the back field alongside Terrance Cain.

After trying to cope with injury after injury, Utah finally has three healthy running backs who can complete its offensive scheme. Its luck is coming at just the right time, as a tough Air Force defense will demand versatility from Utah’s offense in both carries and receptions.

The Utes have struggled to maintain depth at the running back position since senior Matt Asiata, the preseason all-Mountain West Conference running back, left Utah’s game against Louisville with a torn ACL. The injury put the Utes into a challenging situation as one of Asiata’s backups, freshman Sausan Shakerin, was already not participating in games. He was still recovering from wrist and shoulder injuries he incurred in Utah’s matchup against San Jose State.

With junior Eddie Wide as the only other option as running back, Utah’s coaching staff decided to move junior transfer Shaky Smithson from wide receiver to fill in the spot. The Utes’ luck worsened when Smithson left the Colorado State game with a sprained ankle.

The timing couldn’t have been worse, as Wide was left to manage the run game by himself. But Wide came through with a 101-yard performance in the Utes’ win that included a touchdown and dug out two more 100-plus-yard games this season against Louisville and UNLV, as well.

“I feel I’m doing a pretty good job right now, but I could always get better,” Wide said.

Wide has 408 yards, three touchdowns on 70 carries this season and an average of 18 rushes per game since Sept. 17. Still, the Utes’ coaching staff has tried to take some pressure off of him by moving in another wide receiver, freshman Luke Matthews.

Also, Wide will have some backup this week, as head coach Kyle Whittingham said Smithson should be ready to go against Air Force.

“(Smithson) was available against UNLV and could have gone in an emergency, but he will be 100 percent this week,” Whittingham said. Shakerin touched the ball for the first time since the San Jose State game against UNLV last week, and will also be ready to play Saturday.

With a tough Air Force defense on its way to Salt Lake City, Wide said the key will be holding onto the ball, something the Utes have struggled to do this season.

“(Air Force) will capitalize on all our mistakes, so we need to make sure we don’t make any,” Wide said.

Between Smithson, Shakerin and Matthews, Whittingham said he is unsure who will get the majority of the carries against the Falcons but plans on using Wide as much as possible.

“(Our running backs are) all very capable, (but) Eddie is still the lead guy,” Whittingham said. “(He’s) going to get the most carries of anybody.”

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Tyler Cobb/The Daily Utah Chronicle

Eddie Wide celebrates after scoring a touchdown against UNLV. Against Air Force, Wide will have support behind him with Sausan Shakerin and Shaky Smithson.