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The big ills: Hurting Utes to mend, move on

U. pains: Johnson's separated shoulder, Asiata's broken leg

Published: Saturday, Sept. 1 2007 12:51 a.m. MDT

With cousin Aaron Mitchell at his side, Utah QB Brian Johnson leaves the field with his arm in a sling after U. loss.

Keith Johnson, Deseret Morning News

A day after losing tailback Matt Asiata and quarterback Brian Johnson to injuries in a 24-7 season-opening loss at Oregon State, the Utes are on the mend.

"It puts a damper on things. There's no doubt about it," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That is the worst part of this sport — the injury factor. Psychologically it takes a toll. But you've got to rebound. You've got to be able to rebound."

Asiata underwent successful surgery Friday at University Hospital to repair two broken bones — fibula and tibia — on his right leg. The former Snow College star, who rushed for 16 yards on four carries in his Utah debut, will miss the rest of the season.

Whittingham was told that Asiata's injuries were not career-threatening, and he is expected to make a full recovery.

Johnson, meanwhile, is out three to five weeks with a right shoulder separation. After the initial healing process is complete, he'll be able play again when the pain can be tolerated.

"Brian's a tough, competitive kid," Whittingham said. "My guess is — knowing Brian Johnson — don't be surprised if he's back a little sooner than that."

The Utes, who return to action next Saturday at home against Air Force, are determined to move on. They held a team meeting Friday and watched film.

"We understand where our deficiencies were and what we've got to do to improve," Whittingham said, while noting that the team needs guys to stand up. "I think it's more a mind-set than anything else. I don't think there's anything you do practice-wise or any of that stuff.

"You've just got to have the right mind-set and work yourself through the situation," he added.

At quarterback, the Utes are turning to backup Tommy Grady. Whittingham confirmed the senior is "the guy" to step in for Johnson. On Thursday, Grady completed 9-of-24 passes for 59 yards.

The transfer from Oklahoma plans to spend the long Labor Day weekend studying a lot of film to see what he can improve upon.

As for the tailback position, Whittingham said it's once again an open competition — with a twist. Junior Darrell Mack, who was going to redshirt, is back in the mix after Asiata's injury. He'll battle Ray Stowers and Darryl Poston to become Utah's featured back.

"It's tough to sort the running back situation out without live work. At this point in the year, obviously, the live work is in games," Whittingham said. "So it's kind of like last night where we hoped to see some separation."

Asiata managed to do so before getting injured, he noted, but it's a moot point now.

"We'll let those guys (Stowers, Poston and Mack) separate themselves through the course of their play," Whittingham said. "Just let it work itself out."

Despite an inordinate number of injuries early in the season, which include a season-ending knee injury to redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Martinez, Whittingham and the Utes still believe in the team.

"You have no time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself. You've got to move forward and get your issues resolved," Whittingham said. "There's a lot of football left. As down as everyone feels right now, we're just one game into this."


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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