It would be putting it mildly to say that the University of Utah has had trouble running the ball this season. The Utes rank 105th nationally in rushing offense, averaging just 68.7 yards per game.
Much of the problem has been pinned on the offensive line, but the running backs have had their problems, too. Halfback Steve Abrams has been injured the last couple of games, and Cliff Smith, last year's leading rusher, has not returned to form this year.Because of injuries, Brad Foster, a redshirt freshman who missed all of last season (plus spring practice) while recovering from major knee surgery, will start again this week.
"He's playing well, considering everything that's happened to him," says offensive coordinator Dan Henson. "I don't know if I'd say he's 100 percent yet. He's well enough to play effectively. But anytime you come off major knee surgery there's still going to be pain and swelling. Brad will get better because the knee will get better and because he's still only a freshman with no spring practice behind him."
Abrams, meanwhile, is still nursing a pulled quadriceps muscle, and his status for Saturday's UTEP game is uncertain. "I'm not sure if he'll play," says Henson. "He's healing up better this week. But it was a severe pull - more so than we thought."
Smith, who has missed the last couple of games because of an infection, has been promoted to second on the depth chart.
WEEKEND TRAVELS: With a bye last Saturday, the Utes rested last week, but not their coaches. Head Coach Ron McBride spent part of the week in California, recruiting and studying the San Jose State offense. Defensive coordinator Greg McMackin scouted the Air Force-Notre Dame game. Henson spent the weekend on the West Coast, scouting the San Diego State-UCLA game and recruiting a prep quarterback. The Utes meet Air Force next week and San Diego State the following week.
MUM AGAIN ON THE QB: - Once again, Henson isn't saying who will start at quarterback this weekend (this is getting to be a weekly habit). As of Wednesday Henson was saying he would wait until the end of the week to decide on a starter - either Jason Woods or Mike Richmond, who have each started three games this season.
Woods, who started the Utes' last game, is sufficiently recovered from a concussion and a hand injury to practice this week. He's splitting practice reps with Richmond.
Woods has completed 46 percent of his passes (35 of 76) for 607 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions for an efficiency rating of 114. Richmond has completed 56.6 percent of his passes (73 of 129) for 910 yards, 1 TD and 7 interceptions for a 107.6 rating.
THE DEFENSE RESTS: Only a couple of weeks ago, Utah's defense was riddled with injuries, but after a week of rest McMackin says, "We are ready to roll. Everybody is back and ready to play."
Actually, one player is still listed as questionable for this week's UTEP game. Linebacker Pita Tonga is still nursing a pinched nerve in his neck. "We don't know how he'll be for Saturday's game," says McMackin. "He feels like he's going to play."
In the meantime, linebacker Anthony Davis, defensive tackle Greg Reynolds and safety Sharrieff Shah, all of whom missed Utah's last game with injuries, are fit to play again. All of them practiced Tuesday and Wednesday.
NUMBERS: The Utes rank 98th nationally in scoring offense. Not surprisingly, kicker Wayne Lammle's season has suffered. Lammle, who made 16 of 22 field goal attempts a year ago, has attempted just six field goals this season - and made four of them. He has attempted just nine PAT kicks - and missed two of those. Lammle has kicked just one field goal in the last four games. . . .The Utes rank second in the Western Athletic Conference in pass defense and scoring defense. . . . Wide receiver Bryan Rowley has caught only eight passes this season, but he's turned them into 265 yards - an average of 33.1 yards per catch. . . . The Utes have blocked a school-record 5 field goal/PAT kicks this season.