The Utah Utes have Reggie Dunn listed as a receiver in their media guide. But more and more the senior is looking like the answer — or at least the band-aid — to Utah’s hurting rushing attack.
Dunn, who was Utah’s second-leading rusher behind John White in 2011, seems on the verge of re-enacting that role.
With White sidelined against BYU with an ankle injury and the other backs struggling to get yards, the Utes turned to Dunn to kick some life into the run game by springing him with short passes on the outside.
Technically he finished with six catches for 56 yards. Realistically, he felt like he was playing another position.
“I felt like I was a running back out there,” he said. “But that is what those plays are for, to make something happen. Hopefully the coaches liked what they saw and will get me the ball and let me run more.”
The Utes might not have much of a choice.
White is supposed to play against Arizona State, but his effectiveness is in question since he has been limited in practice this week. Freshman Jarrell Oliver, who started against the Cougars and finished with 11 carries for 24 yards, was also banged up against BYU, but is expected to play.
Junior college transfer Kelvin York and sophomore Lucky Radley combined for 13 carries for 29 yards against the Cougars, which weren’t the kind of performances that usually earn more touches.
Dunn, on the other hand, is comfortable as a running threat since he was so successful in 2011. He was fourth on the team in receiving yards with 211 on 15 catches, but did most of his damage in the run game.
He averaged 11.5 yards a carry as he consistently out-juked and out-raced would-be defenders with his 4.32, 40-yard dash speed.
“It doesn’t matter how I get the touches,” he said. “I’ll play whatever role the coaches want and just try to make the best of my opportunities.”
Dunn wasn’t sure how many opportunities he was going to get this year.
He fell behind other receivers on the depth chart in fall camp, then dropped some passes at Utah State, leaving him uncertain how often he’d hear his name called.
The Utes, though, went to him against BYU, giving him a chance to redeem himself.
“I still had one drop,” he said. “But I knew I needed to do a better job of focusing and making sure I made the plays to help the team win and that is what I did.”
Having him as a threat should help quarterback Jon Hays by keeping ASU’s defense honest.
“When they commit ‘X’ amount of players to the box, the quarterback can get the ball to the perimeter,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It’s a cat and mouse game. If they go out there and take it away, we can’t go there so we have to take it up inside. It’s all about the reads the quarterback makes.”
By now opponents shouldn’t be surprised with Dunn’s role. However, he feels he can remain effective even if the element of surprise has worn off.
“We can get more creative and find different ways like we did last week,” he said. “The coaches will find ways to get me and the other guys the ball.”
Reggie Dunn file
5-10, 172, Sr.
Of note • Finished second on the team with 173 rushing yards on 15 carries in 2011. ... Was sixth in the Pac-12 with a 23.6 kick return average in 2011. ... Scored a touchdown on the first offensive play of his career against San Jose State in 2010 on a 43-yard reverse. ... Against Iowa State in 2010, he became the first Ute in 25 years to return a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. ... Signed with Oregon State out of high school before attending Compton Community College.
Utah at Arizona State
P Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network