When the University of Utah plays Colorado State today in Fort Collins, several of the Utes' regular players probably will be standing on the sidelines.
"We've got a lot of guys dinged up," says Utah coach Ron McBride. "We're going to be playing some new guys."Because of injuries, as many as four starters could be unable to play today. Halfback Steve Abrams, who has a pulled thigh muscle, is listed as questionable. Defensive tackle Greg Reynolds, who has a sprained knee, won't play. Neither will guard James McKenna, who is still recovering from a neck injury. Safety Sharrieff Shah, who underwent thumb surgery on Monday, won't start, but might play, cast and all.
Jimmy Bellamy, a starting defensive end, will move inside to replace Reynolds, and Greg Lewis will fill in for Bellamy. Todd Lawson, a redshirt freshman who hasn't been credited with a single defensive statistic this season, will replace Shah.
"Shah hasn't taken many reps this week, so he'll be in a reserve role," says McBride.
If Abrams is unable to play - he played only a few plays last week before reinjuring the leg - he would be replaced by Brad Foster, a hard-charging redshirt freshman. "He's going to be a real good player for us," says McBride.
In the offensive line, McKenna again will be replaced by Russ Daily. Tackle Mike DeHoog, who was injured a couple of weeks ago, will return to the starting lineup.
Injuries or not, the Utes, 2-3, will try to end a three-game losing streak today against the Rams. To do so, they'll have to beat a team that already has won two conference games in as many tries, beating Air Force and UTEP. Utah has lost six of its last seven Western Athletic Conference games, dating back to last season.
To beat the Rams, the Utes will have to break out of a deep scoring slump. They have scored just one touchdown in each of their last three games - and four touchdowns in their last 14 quarters of play.
"Our biggest problem appears to be on the offensive side of the ball," says McBride, in what surely is an understatement. "We've played five good defensive games. I don't see anything wrong with the defense's play. We've given up some big plays, but overall we've been good. The biggest problem is getting consistency on offense and moving the ball."
For the third consecutive game, Mike Richmond, who began the year as a reserve, will start at quarterback, although McBride says backup Jason Woods "is starting to look a little better again."
Richmond has completed 56.6 percent of his passes and thrown for 910 yards. He also has thrown one touchdown pass and seven interceptions.
But at least the passing game has been more productive than the running game, which averages a mere 74 yards per game. The Utes' running attack may depend today on Foster, who has risen from fourth string to second since the start of the season. He missed all last season with a knee injury.
The Utes say their offense is improving, but so has the competition. Says McBride, "There are no cherries out there. There's no ooe out there waiting to be picked. We need (CSU) to have a bit of an off day maybe. But they're not going to have an off day."
The Rams are largely the same team that crushed Utah 50-10 a year ago in Salt Lake City. They are one of three WAC teams with unbeaten conference records. "They're right in there somewhere," says McBride.