Utah (3-1) overcame injuries to four key starters in the first half to defeat Louisville 30-14 Saturday night in front of a sellout homecoming crowd of 45,588.
Matt Asiata tore his right ACL early in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the season. The senior running back was Utah's leading rusher, and will finish the season with 330 yards and 4 touchdowns. Eddie Wide stepped up to take Asiata's place, setting career highs with 129 yards on 19 carries. Asiata was not alone on the injury report. Starting defensive tackle Lei Talamaivao suffered a broken fibula and will be out for several weeks. Left tackle Zane Beadles somehow received a deep gash on his knee and safety Joe Dale left the game at halftime with what appeared to be leg cramps. The good news is that Utah has a bye next week, giving an extra week to heal some of the bumps and bruises before kicking off conference play.
After struggling early in the season, Utah's front seven played fantastic. The Utes held a dynamic Louisville running game to 80 yards and sacked quarterback Justin Burke four times. Sealver Siliga played especially well in the middle of the defense after Talamaivao went down. Koa Misi finally played healthy and was the best player on the field. Misi recorded 7 tackles, a tackle for loss, and forced a game-turning fumble after chasing down receiver Trent Guy on a reverse. Linebackers Kepa Gaison and Mike Wright played well, combining for 12 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and teaming up for an interception with Gaison tipping the pass to Wright. The Utah defense was flying to the ball all night long and for the first time in the season appeared to play the "Utah defense" that coordinator Kalani Sitake has been looking for. The Utes forced three turnovers, held Louisville to 261 yards of offense and allowed the Cardinals to convert on just 4 of their 14 third down attempts.
Offensively, the Utes played arguably their best game of the season, scoring 30 points while running for 214 yards and passing for 202. Quarterback Terrance Cain was efficient all night long, completing 17 of his 22 passes for 202 yards and 2 touchdowns. Cain also had 51 yards on the ground as the Utah playbook expanded and attacked Louisville tendencies and weaknesses, despite the injury issues. Utah took advantage of the short field the defense provided, scoring 10 points off turnovers, including a 42-yard touchdown pass from Cain to David Reed after Misi's forced fumble. Reed finished with 78 yards on 6 catches. Jereme Brooks had 2 catches for 42 yards and a nifty 34-yard touchdown on a screen pass. Utah's offensive line did have issues with pass protection, allowing three sacks and numerous hits on Cain that contributed to the lone interception and some poorly thrown balls. Utah's third down offense was not good, converting just 4 of 13 attempts.
Joe Phillips might have won the place kicking job for good. Phillips took over after Ben Vroman missed three field goals earlier in the season. Phillips hit all three attempts against Louisville, including a 48-yard kick to end the first half. Sean Sellwood has turned into a solid punter, and averaged 44.9 yards per punt against Louisville, including a career long 63-yard punt. The Utes also recorded their third blocked kick of the season after R.J. Stanford blocked a field goal attempt in the first quarter. Utah's return game was not good and could use some extra work in the upcoming bye week.
With Asiata out, Wide becomes the starter and Sausan Shakerin the top backup. Shakerin has been out the last two weeks with wrist and shoulder injuries but should be ready to go after the bye week. Utah is thin at running back, with just little-used senior Ray Stowers and true freshman Beau Burton. Burton has drawn rave reviews from the staff and played well in practice, but the ideal situation would be to redshirt Burton and fill in as needed with all-purpose athlete Shaky Smithson.
LOUISVILLE:Doug Beaumont and Jon Dempsey. Beaumont provided Louisville with big plays on offense and special teams. Beaumont's 44-yard catch was the longest play of the night, and only a great play by Greg Bird kept Beaumont from returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Dempsey was all over the field for the Cardinals defense, recording 14 tackles, a tackle for loss, and a sack.
UTAH: Eddie Wide and Sealver Siliga. Wide played a great game filling in for Asiata and will be the main back from here on out. Wide's speed and quickness adds a different element to Utah's ground attack, and he has shown the ability to run hard between the tackles. Wide does need to work harder on pass protection, but he is a receiving threat out of the backfield. Siliga did not show up big in the stat sheet, with three tackles, a half-tackle for loss and a pass breakup, but will show up big in the film room. Siliga clogged the middle of the defense, drawing double-teams while still preventing Louisville from establishing any kind of running game up the middle. Siliga's play allowed the linebackers to pursue cleanly and attack the ball carrier. Kenape Eliapo and Talamaivao played well, but Siliga stood out.