Utah football coach Kyle Whittingham has empathy for USC linebacker Porter Gustin, knowing him personally, but that's the extent of his reaction to how Gustin's being lost for the season due to a broken ankle will affect the Trojans in Saturday's game at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“Everybody in the country's banged up,” Whittingham said Monday, during his weekly news conference. “Don't want to hear any sob stories.”
The Utes have injuries of their own, with center Lo Falemaka having missed the past two games. Defensive end Mika Tafua missed Friday’s 42-10 win over Arizona and receiver Siaosi Mariner also was unavailable for that game. As for their status Saturday, Whittingham said, “We’ll find out as the week progresses.”
Utah's offensive line has performed well in Falemaka's absence, with sophomore Orlando Umana moving to center and redshirt freshman Nick Ford playing guard.
Gustin, a senior from Salem Hills High School in southern Utah County, fractured his ankle in the late stages of USC’s 31-20 defeat of Colorado, effectively ending his college career. Gustin picked USC over Utah during the recruitment battle back in February 2015.
Gustin leads the Trojans with seven sacks this season and had 21 sacks in the equivalent of three years, with his last two seasons cut short due to injuries. This past summer, he made multiple lists of the biggest “freaks” in college football, a tribute to his athletic ability, nutritional discipline and work ethic.
Even without Gustin, Whittingham said, “They've got plenty of good players. Just like everybody else, you move on to the next guy. You feel bad for him, because he's a great kid and a really good player.”
Now that Utah has solved some offensive issues, Whittingham pointed to the Ute secondary's competition with USC's receivers as “the key matchup of the game.”
Whittingham said he judges his secondary by the pass efficiency defense statistic, and Utah ranks No. 1 in the Pac-12 and No. 18 nationally. Those numbers partly reflect Weber State’s passing troubles in the season opener against Utah with a redshirt freshman quarterback who subsequently was replaced.