Utah football: Sakoda is playing key role for Utes
One of the most important coaches on the Utah staff right now might be a guy who wasn't supposed to be here.
Former Utah kicker Louie Sakoda , who many thought would be with an NFL team by now, was instead brought onto the Ute staff as a student assistant when he wasn't offered a pro job.
Now, he is in charge of what suddenly looks like a very suspect kicking game.
Senior Ben Vroman , who kicked his first collegiate field goal against Utah State of 44 yards, has been replaced by walk-on Joe Phillips after Vroman missed three attempts at San Jose State.
Phillips, who attended Lone Peak High before going to Snow College, made one from 25 yards out. While Phillips is the answer for now, the Utes probably want to have Vroman back in the mix at some point, given that he has a stronger leg.
That means Sakoda has to play part coach and part psychologist to help a kicker overcome what was a nightmare of a night. Phillips, meanwhile, is so new to the program that the sports information department was scrambling to put together his bio. He started the season at No. 3, became No. 2 when freshman Nick Marsh was indefinitely suspended, and is now No. 1.
"Both of them are inexperienced right now," Sakoda said. "But they'll be fine."
Sakoda said he hasn't lost faith in Vroman, who will continue to handle Utah's kickoff duties as he has for the last three seasons.
"Going into that game he was lights out, coming off the most phenomenal practice he'd ever had," Sakoda said. "Even though he is older, he doesn't have a lot of live reps, he was in a hostile environment, at sea level and kicking 53, 50 yards. Those aren't easy kicks to make. All those factors come into play. We've talked through it, different things work for different kickers, but he'll be fine."
Vroman said he'll be fine too, if he is given the chance to prove it.
"I've got to move forward and try to forget about it," he said. "I hope the coaches keep their faith in me, it's their decision who kicks, but I hope I get a shot. You have to have a short memory, what happened is in the past."
Coach Kyle Whittingham said a final decision on who will be the No. 1 kicker will be made today.
Whittingham didn't rule out the possibility of still using Vroman for long attempts.
"If it's 50-plus yards we either have to go for it or put Ben out there because Joe, accuracy is his strong suit," he said. "His leg does not have the range that Ben does."
Scouting the injured
Whittingham no longer is giving daily status updates of injured players, so the official availability of running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) and lineman Caleb Schlauderaff (knee) will remain as questionable for Saturday's game.
Also injured is backup running back Sausan Shakerin , who has a cast on his left hand.
Judging from their participation, Schlauderaff should play while Asiata said he was hopeful to play. He and Shakerin dressed but wore yellow jerseys, indicating no contact was allowed.
"It comes down to Saturday, we'll see," Asiata said.
As usual, Oregon will spend plenty of time watching the Utes on film to see where Utah's weaknesses and strengths are. Oregon coach Chip Kelly hinted during his news conference this week some of that film time would include Utah's bowl game, just to make sure the Ducks don't take the Utes too lightly.
"You show them the Sugar Bowl," he said of why the Ducks would respect Utah. "Our guys, trust me, are not taking Utah lightly. They are nationally ranked and they played in a BCS game and we didn't. That caught our attention."