With every contest, the Utah running game seems to have a new theme. This week's storyline is who will be healthy enough to back up starter Eddie Wide.
Shaky Smithson, a receiver turned into part-time running back after Matt Asiata tore his ACL and backup running back Sausan Shakerin remained sidelined with wrist/shoulder injuries, is probable for Saturday's game at UNLV after injuring his ankle against CSU.
However, his uncertain status means Shakerin, formerly tabbed the No. 3 guy until he was 100 percent, moves into the No. 2 spot even though he still is recovering from his injuries.
And so the running back carousel turns once again. At least this week there are more guys on it.
"We should be in better shape as far as depth than last week," Whittingham said.
Against CSU, the Utes planned to use Smithson with a special set of plays. He did take one direct snap that gained 22 yards, but the package was sidelined along with Smithson after he suffered his ankle injury.
"We were expecting him to get 10 to 12 carries," Whittingham said. "We had to scramble and revise our thinking."
Quarterback Terrance Cain, who rushed 15 times for 71 yards at CSU, will continue to be a factor in the run game, said Whittingham, although the Utes don't want their quarterback always acting as the next best running back option.
"He is doing a nice job of adding to the game but it's going to be a matter of production of Shaky and Shak and who is that next guy," Whittingham said. "Right now they're on equal footing."
While Smithson is gaining a reputation as a utility player for the Utes, playing on special teams in addition to contributing as a skill player, Shakerin is a bit of a mystery.
The redshirt freshman reeled off a 46-yard run on his first collegiate carry during the Utes' 24-14 win at San Jose State but has been sidelined ever since with injuries sustained during that play.
Whittingham said Shakerin's cast will be removed this week and he'll play with his wrist in a splint.
So what happens if a running back suffers yet another injury against the Rebels? The running back by committee plan simply grows include others.
"We have Ray Stowers and Trevor Moss still available," Whittingham said of two rarely used players. "David Reed can run the fly sweep and that type of thing. Hopefully we won't need to go beyond that, but if we do we'd take a look at what our options are and see what the best direction is to head."
The one certainty is Wide will remain at No. 1 as long as he is healthy.
He rushed 18 times for 101 yards at CSU, a number of carries the Utes' don't want to see increase more than that.
"That is right in the range where we feel his capabilities are," Whittingham said.
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