Utah football: Utah freshman defender cleared by NCAA
Utah's defense has some more talent at its disposal with the NCAA declaring freshman Pita Taumoepenu eligible.
Taumoepenu, a 6-foot-1, 215-pounder out of Timpview H.S., has been with the team since fall camp, but the NCAA needed extra time to sort out his academic work because he attended two high schools in Tonga, then transferred to Timpview during his junior year. There was some concern he might have repeated a grade, but the issues have been sorted out and Taumoepenu can play immediately.
Since he was enrolled only as a part-time student at Utah, Taumoepenu couldn't participate in team activities such as practice once classes started.
However, coaches are confident it won't take him long to get up to speed. Plans are to use him on special teams first.
Once he has caught up, Taumoepenu could give the Utes some much needed help at linebacker, where the Utes are lacking depth with senior Brian Blechen out for several weeks while recovering from knee surgery for his tendinitis.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said it will be at least three to four weeks before the Utes will decide whether to redshirt Blechen or not.
As a defensive end for Timpview last year, Taumoepenu totaled 25 sacks, including four in the Class 4A state title game to help the Thunderbirds beat Mountain Crest 38-31.
Not enough bodies
The Utes say every year their recruiting class is the best ever, yet they are still struggling with depth. So what gives? Whittingham said Wednesday that the faster-paced offenses are putting a new demand on teams.
"You need to have a two-deep rotation now," he said. "The old days of having 11 starters who played almost the whole game are over, or at least it is a rarity."
Former Utah running back Jamal Anderson is serving as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network during its broadcast of Saturday's game.
Anderson rushed for 958 yards as a senior in 1993 before going on to an eight-year career in the NFL.