Hollywood, Calif. • Arizona State running back Eno Benjamin has lasting impressions of former Utah safety Marquise Blair’s hits and Ute fans’ tweets.
Benjamin, once a prime Utah recruiting target from Texas, shredded the Utes for 175 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 38-20 victory last November. That performance gives him some leverage in the online exchanges he enjoys, while recalling Blair’s impact in that game.
“I tried to spin off a tackle and he got me right in my backbone,” Benjamin said this week, during the Pac-12 Football Media Day. “I do remember that. … I will say that's the most physical game I've played since I've been at ASU.”
Blair now plays for the Seattle Seahawks as a second-round draft pick. Benjamin is the top returning rusher in the Pac-12, having gained 1,642 yards as a sophomore. He’s one of four 1,000-yard backs Utah will face in conference play, with the Sun Devils coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Oct. 19.
Benjamin joined Utah’s Zack Moss as the running backs on the Pac-12′s official preseason all-conference first team and he’s a candidate for national honors. Moss’ level of recognition has been mixed this summer, after he missed the last five games of the season with a knee injury. Responding to one published compilation of top backs, a Ute fan tweeted that he couldn’t take seriously any list that included Benjamin and excluded Moss.
The Pac-12 returns six 1,000-yard rushers from 2018. Utah will face the top four returnees in 2019:
1,642 – Eno Benjamin, Arizona State.
1,434 – JJ Taylor, Arizona.
1,380 – Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State.
1,243 – Joshua Kelley, UCLA.
1,092 – Zack Moss, Utah.
1,008 – CJ Verdell, Oregon.
Benjamin replied, “lol. Is that so. Then whyyy in the world would you have wanted me to commit to your team?” He included a screen shot of the fan targeting Benjamin as a hoped-for recruit.
Benjamin laughed when reminded about such conversations. In person, he comes across as sharp, friendly and likable.
“At times, I like trolling,” he said of his internet persona. “It’s a game. I love that type of stuff. But then if you start taking it too seriously, you’ve got to pull yourself away. You’ve got to leave that alone.”
The Utes’ backfield would be overloaded if they had both Moss and Benjamin these days. They’re the headliners of a strong group of Pac-12 running backs that will challenge Utah’s proud defensive line.
Ute end Bradlee Anae is known for his pass-rushing ability, but he knows his job description starts with stopping the run.
“The whole culture of our defensive line is you have to earn your pass rushes,” Anae said. “That means stopping the run on the first two downs so you can earn that third-and-8 … and being able to pin your ears back and rush the quarterback and try to get sacks.”
That didn't rally happen in Utah's game last season at Arizona State, where Benjamin's running enabled the Sun Devils' offense to thrive. His 175 yards came on 27 carries; Moss gained 128 yards on 18 attempts that day.
Benjamin will keep track of the performances of the league's other backs. “That's one of the main things that keeps me going; I know how great they are,” he said. “There's a race to get to the top.”
Benjamin, Moss, UCLA’s Joshua Kelley and Oregon State’s Jermar Jefferson all represented their schools at Media Day and have the potential to produce some big rushing numbers that will speak for themselves. Benjamin will be happy to elaborate.