After missing two games with an ankle injury, Utah linebacker Jacoby Hale said he was a little nervous when he went onto the field against USC. You would have never known the junior had some butterflies the way he played, as he had two sacks and another tackle for a loss.
Welcome back, Jacoby. The Utes surely missed you. As for the rest of the conference, the opponents probably wished you'd remained on the sidelines.
At 6 feet and 230 pounds, Hale is one of Utah's more physical players, as his game against the Trojans showed.
Despite missing the two games, Hale is second on the team with five sacks, and his 16 total tackles include seven for a loss. He also has a pass breakup.
"He is a big-impact, big-play guy for us and we missed that," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We're glad to have him back and we need him to stay healthy for these last games."
Hale's presence helps the Utes in two ways. He gives Utah more of a sack threat and he frees up defensive end Trevor Reilly, who played more at linebacker when Hale was out.
Reilly has led the Utes in tackles in the last three games and believes he can do even more damage with Hale on the field.
"He takes a lot of pressure off me," Reilly said. "Teams ID me even when I'm not blitzing so it takes a little more pressure off when he's in there because he's another weapon and it opens things up a lot more for us."
The Utes expected Hale to make such an impact this year after his sophomore season in which he had 27 tackles and two pass breakups in seven games before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
Missing two contests this year when he was just getting on top of his game was frustrating, Hale said, but he made the most of his time on the sidelines. He paid close attention to his teammates, noting how and where he could help out when he returned.
"We needed to be more physical," he said. "We need to go hard and show teams we can be a good team and play physical football."
Hale, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds, is determined to be an example of such play. The Utes have a young linebacking corps, with sophomores Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham anchoring the other starting slots, so Hale feels it's his job to set the tone.
"I want to contribute in any way possible and find my role," he said. "Whenever the opportunity arises out there, you have to take it. It felt weird being on the sidelines. I want to be out there and feel that pain and help this team get wins."
From • Beaumont, Texas
Vitals • 6 feet, 230 pounds, junior.
Of note • Has 16 tackles with seven for loss this season. â¦ Runs a 4.55 in the 40. â¦ Had 27 tackles in seven games in 2012 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in 2012. â¦ Member of Student-Athlete Mentors. â¦ Exercise Sports Science major. â¦ Graduated cum laude from Beaumont Central H.S.
No. 23 Arizona State at Utah
P Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Network