Utah's defenders must have enjoyed watching Utah's offense work against the Utah State Aggies on Thursday and, in particular, running back Matt Asiata's effort.
After spending much of fall camp trying to stop the senior, Utah's defenders could sit back and watch another team's futile attempts against him.
They were fairly futile, too, as Asiata debuted his new, quicker running style against the Aggies on Thursday, finishing with a career-high 164 yards on 36 carries.
That performance was just a hint of things expected to come from Asiata, who dropped almost 20 pounds in the offseason.
Where he was a big, burly back before who often chose to run over anyone who stood in his way (including referees, as witnessed last year at Michigan), Asiata now has a more dynamic running style because he is able to cut better and react quicker.
Doug Elisaia, Utah's strength coach, said Asiata has improved his vertical jump, broad jump and speed and acceleration. Those familiar with him don't need to see Asiata's time on a stopwatch, though, to know he has improved; all it takes is watching a few of his runs to see he is more nimble than in any previous year.
Asiata said his quicker style was what he wanted knowing the Utes were going to an uptempo offense.
"I had to keep up with it," he said. "I've been working on my speed and it has helped a lot with this offense. I feel good about it. I'm going to keep running and conditioning."
Asiata cut his weight by eating better such as taking out extra sugar and carbs from his diet.
"He did a good job of staying on the program and fine-tuning it so he got enough protein for his workouts," Elisaia said. "It should make him more durable now that he is the main guy, especially in the wildcat formation."
Durable is something he must be this year if the Utes continue to use him as they did Thursday. His carries accounted for almost half of the 80 plays the Utes ran against Utah State.
Asiata, who has set a personal goal of being a 1,000-yard rusher, said he could continue that workload through the season if necessary.
"I'll work my butt off and do whatever the coaches want me to do," he said.
Because of his burly form in the past, Asiata is known more as a north-south runner than one who heads to the corners first. Utah offensive coordinator Dave Schramm doesn't see that changing this year, so expect more outings such as Thursday when Asiata penetrated the defense's midsection with the "Asiata package," and other straightforward run plays, rather than going outside first.
"If we have to do that, we'll put Eddie Wide in there," Schramm said of attacking the corners. "I don't want to see [Asiata] run to the sideline, I want to see him put a foot in the ground and go vertical."
The difference between the old Asiata and the slimmer, quicker version comes with his creativity once he heads downfield, Asiata said. He hasn't often been described as elusive in the past, but as Utah's defenders know from practice and opponents such as the Aggies are finding out, he is harder to get ahold of than ever.
"When I was heavy, my cuts were slower," he said. "I feel lighter and faster, but I've kept my strength there. I can't lose it. I'm going to be fast, but I need the strength to knock some defenders off when I need to."
Matt Asiata had 36 carries Thursday, one of the highest totals by a Ute. Here are the others who have had busy nights rushing for the Utes.
|36||Brandon Warfield||Texas A&M||2003||181|
|36||Matt Asiata||Utah State||2009||156|