Ute football: Utah run game faces tough challenge at CSU
Fort Collins, Colo. » The last time Eddie Wide started a game as Utah's designated running back, things didn't go so well.
Wide had just two carries for a loss of three yards in the Utes' loss to Oregon before he was replaced by an ailing Matt Asiata, who finished with 54 yards on 15 carries.
Now with Asiata's season over after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Louisville, the main responsibility of the rushing game falls onto Wide's shoulders.
He says he is ready to redeem himself starting today when the Utes play at Colorado State.
"I feel good," he said. "I just have to show it in the game and step up."
He has a challenge ahead of him, not only because he is a different kind of runner than Asiata but because Colorado State's defense ranks second in the conference against the run, holding teams to 91.6 rushing yards. In contrast, the Rams give up 261 passing yards to rank seventh.
Wide, however, seems confident he and the Utes can move the ball on the ground against the Rams. His style is different from Asiata's, which he believes gives the Utes a little more evasiveness.
"I am a speed guy and they don't know exactly what I am going to do," he said. "I am a slasher so if the cutback is there I am going to easily take it."
Wide won't have to beat the Rams' defense alone. Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes' run game shifts its from focus of Asiata running 25-30 times a game to using Wide as the main guy, but also incorporating backup Sausan Shakerin as he gets healthier from overcoming his shoulder and wrists injuries, using quarterback Terrance Cain more in the run game and calling on receiver Shaky Smithson to make some carries.
Smithson had four carries for 18 yards against Louisville. He has taken advantage of Utah's bye week to become more familiar with the offense so he can contribute more to the rush attack.
"I'm very comfortable, any way I can get the ball," he said.
Incorporating more bodies into the running attack is the only concession the Utes say they have to make in Asiata's absence. Even the "Asiata package" will remain, although Whittingham joked they'd have to come up with another name.
The differences between Asiata's power running style and Wide's slashing nature don't mean much when it gets down to moving the ball, Whittingham said.
"As a defensive coordinator, you have to stop the run," he said. "You don't really care what style of running back you are playing against, you have to stop the perimeter plays and stop the interior plays. It's not a big deal. Eddie certainly has a different skill set than Matt, but he is a very capable inside runner and he is dangerous on the edges as well so as a defensive coordinator when you are planning you have to take care of everything."
Nevertheless, the Oregon game may have shown some vulnerability in the Utes' running game. While Whittingham said in retrospect the Utes probably should have given Wide some more carries, Wide said on Wednesday he didn't mind being replaced by Asiata.
"Matt did a great job of running the ball and I couldn't do what I could do because they were crashing down on me," he said.
If the Utes' passing game struggles today as it did against Oregon, Wide could find more defenders crashing down on him. However, he says he'll be ready.
"I have to be faster when I get the ball," he said. "I can do that."
At Hughes Stadium, Fort Collins, Colo.
Kickoff » 4 p.m.
TV » The Mtn.
Radio » 700 AM
Records » Utah (3-1, 0-0); CSU (3-2, 0-1)
Series history » Utah leads 53-22-2
Last meeting » Utah, 49-16 (Oct. 18, 2008)
About the Utes » They are 4-0 after bye weeks under coach Kyle Whittingham. ... The Utes have won the last three games against the Rams. ... Offensive lineman Zane Beadles, who suffered a laceration on his leg against Louisville, is expected to play, fellow lineman Walter Watts is questionable. ... The Utes lead the MWC in total offense, averaging 432.8 yards, but are only fifth in scoring offense (28.2). ... The Utes are 6-5 in games played on Oct. 10.
About the Rams » Are on a two-game losing streak after losing at Idaho, 31-29. ... The Rams haven't lost three consecutive games under coach Steve Fairchild. ... QB Grant Stucker is fourth in the MWC in total offense (247.4) but the Rams are just sixth in scoring (26.8). ... Dion Morton leads the conference in kickoff returns (26.5).