Utah didn't leave Michigan unscathed.

The Utes won the game 25-23 but lost starting nose tackle Kenape Eliapo to a foot injury late in the second quarter. The junior, who made three tackles before getting hurt, is expected to be sidelined for six to eight weeks.

"We're relatively thin there as it is, and to lose him doesn't help our cause," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "But as I say every year, it's a part of the game. We've got to move on. We've got to have Lei Talamaivao and Aaron Tonga step up. They've got to step up and pick up the slack."

Same goes for true freshman Sealver Siliga, who will be pulled out of a planned redshirt year to join a four-man rotation that includes starting tackle Greg Newman.

"One guy goes down and the next guy has got to step up," Whittingham said as the Utes prepare to face UNLV in their Mountain West Conference opener Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Though all four tackles will likely see action against the Rebels, Talamaivao is expected to get the starting nod alongside Newman.

"Lei's got a lot of experience. He played a lot last year and he stepped up in the Michigan game and did real well for us," said Newman, who also spoke highly of Tonga. "So we've got the utmost confidence in those two. No doubt about it."

Talamaivao, a sophomore, is ready for the challenge. He considers it a team effort.

"We just come out every day and work hard," Talamaivao said.

"It's hard to replace Kenape, but our soldier went down. So we've got to step up and do our job."

Talamaivao played in seven games last season as a true freshman and made 14 tackles, including a season-high seven stops against UNLV.

Tonga, a senior, overcame an MCL strain in camp to retain his spot in the tackle rotation for the opener.

Siliga, an all-stater at Copper Hills in 2007, moves into the mix as a true freshman.

They'll help shut things down in the middle of a line that includes talented ends Paul Kruger and Koa Misi. The duo combined for 14 stops, four tackles-for-loss and two sacks at Michigan.

"It was a great experience," said Newman, who finished with two tackles and recovered a fumble for the defensive front. "The defense played well, flew around and made tackles. And the offense put points on the board."

EXTRA POINTS: Safety Robert Johnson tweaked his left hamstring at Michigan and did not practice Monday. He said there's a chance he'll play Saturday but acknowledged his injury is a "day-to-day" thing ... Quarterback Corbin Louks practiced Monday, but it questionable for UNLV because of a shoulder injury. Starting right tackle Zane Beadles is in a similar situation with a sore knee ... Whittingham said that Jereme Brooks and John Peel will continue to handle punt returns ... The Utes could return to the national rankings for the first time since 2004 when the polls are released today.


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