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Kragthorpe: Ute alumni account for 8 NFL touchdowns

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Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata (44) celebrates with teammate Rhett Ellison after scoring on a 1-yard touchdown run during the second half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Andy King)

By Kurt kragthorpe

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Dec 16 2013 08:53AM
Updated Dec 19, 2013 06:03PM

University of Utah alumni never enjoyed a day in the NFL quite like Sunday.

Two players — Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith and Minnesota running back Matt Asiata — were responsible for eight touchdowns.

Asiata’s three-TD rushing effort was especially meaningful to him, as he establishes himself in the league. His performance in a 48-30 win over Philadelphia came about two months after the death of his father, Pita, in a bus accident.

"I wish my dad was here to witness it," Asiata told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Asiata overcame a lot of struggles to score his first NFL touchdown. After playing for Hunter High School and Snow College, he took four years to fulfill his two years of eligibility at Utah, thanks to two season-ending injuries. Having last played for the Utes in 2010, he made the Vikings’ roster in 2012 and finally got an opportunity to start Sunday with star running back Adrian Peterson injured.

Statistically, Asiata had a strange day, with 30 carries for 51 yards. It’s possible that nobody ever gained fewer yards with that many attempts. Factoring in a 10-yard run and a 5-yard TD, Asiata netted only 36 yards on his other 28 runs.

That’s partly because he was used frequently in short-yardage situations, with his other two touchdowns each coming from 1 yard away.

The Vikings (4-9-1) are out of the playoff picture, but Smith’s Chiefs (11-3) have clinched a playoff berth. The problem is that having lost twice to AFC West rival Denver, the Chiefs need the Broncos to lose, enabling them to earn a top-two playoff seed. Otherwise, Kansas City would get the No. 5 seed as a wild card and would have to open the playoffs on the road.

In any case, Smith has put together a nice stretch of games. He completed 17 of 20 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns Sunday in a 56-31 win at Oakland. Running back Jamaal Charles did most of the work on four of those TD passes, but Smith has been impressive lately, throwing for a total of 1,011 yards and 12 touchdowns in four games.

Two of those games were losses to San Diego and Denver, as the Chiefs’ defense let them down. Denver also is 11-3, with games remaining at Houston and Oakland. So the AFC’s current playoff seeding is likely to remain intact, meaning Kansas City potentially will visit Denver in the divisional round, the weekend of Jan. 11-12.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt

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