Asiata injury, pass defense concerns Utah
Last year the No. 18 Utah Utes were undefeated and beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl 31-17. This year, the team beat Utah State and San Jose State, two mediocre teams, at best. But don’t let that fool you; the Utes are a dangerous team.
Last season, their high-powered spread offense scored more than 30 points in 10 games and this season, with quarterback Terrance Cain leading the way, the Utes have picked up right where they left off in 2008.
“Their offense is very complex, like our offense,” linebacker Casey Matthews said. “They like to spread the formation and run the ball with their quarterback or running back. They have a big running back and tons of offense. But I feel we’ll be ready because we go against that offense every day in practice for a while now.”
This season, Cain is averaging 267 yards through the air. He has three passing touchdowns and another 106 yards on the ground.
“We saw growth from Terrance between game one and two in different areas,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said in his weekly press conference. “We turned him loose in the run game more often last week and capitalized. If he continues to make those jumps, he is going to end up being a very good quarterback.”
To add to that threat, Utah running back Matt Asiata has three touchdowns on the ground and is averaging 125 yards a game, 10th in the nation. If those two weren’t enough, Cain’s favorite target, wideout David Reed, is averaging 117 yards a game, good enough for 11th in the nation.
Oregon is coming off a week where Purdue running back Ralph Bolden ran for 129 yards on 29 carries, so Asiata will be a focus for the defense.
“Everybody just needs to do their jobs to keep him in check,” Matthews said. “The way our defense works, we need to rely on everyone being in the right place. The way (Bolden) was successful was that the majority of his yards came on four or five big runs. He had over 20 carries, but the majority came on those big plays. If we stop those against Utah, we will be fine.”
One wrinkle for Utah is that it’s not sure whether or not Asiata will play. He hurt his shoulder in the fourth quarter against San Jose State, and is questionable for Saturday’s game against the Ducks. But coach Whittingham says that the team will have to be ready either way.
“If Matt Asiata is not available, (Shakerin Sausan) and Eddie Wide will have to pick up load there,” Whittingham said. “Cain will also with the quarterback run game, and we have the fly-sweep series with Reed and (Jereme) Brooks. Matt is our lead guy, but Shak and Eddie ran well. We have faith and confidence in those guys, but we have to get our receivers and Terrance involved, too … if Matt is ready it will be a game-time decision.”
But while the No. 12 offense in the nation seems on solid ground, the defense is 50-50, says Whittingham. Against San Jose State, the Utes allowed 22 yards rushing on 22 carries, but allowed 269 passing — 21 yards more than the Utes had.
“On defense, we held them on the ground,” Whittingham said. “(But) we had some obvious deficiencies in pass defense. We did not play the deep ball well and that was a glaring area of weakness on Saturday.”
Also of concern is the kicking game. Place Kicker Ben Vroman missed all three of his attempts, and the only field goal came from Joe Phillips with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter from 25 yards.
“The special teams did not kick the ball well,” Whittingham said. “There were two difficult field goal attempts of over 50 yards, but we have to do a better job of kicking the ball like we did in week one.”
Because of the poor job, Whittingham says that he might have to go to a kicking rotation.
“We will have a competition this week between Ben Vroman and Joe Phillips,” he said. “We may go to a two-kicker system. Ben’s leg is significantly stronger than Joe’s.”
As for the Ducks, Whittingham and the Utes aren’t looking past them just because Oregon’s offense has struggled this season; he knows Autzen Stadium is a tough place to play.
“For Oregon, we have to elevate our level of play to have a chance to win,” Whittingham said. “We have our work cut out for us; they are a talented Pac-10 team and their stadium presents a hostile environment.”
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