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Utes must find a way to stop IU’s Randle El

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Big Ten coaches use words like "most gifted," "phenomenal," "unique" and "best football player in the nation right now" to describe Indiana University's Antwaan Randle El, a quarterback/receiver/punter/punt returner extraordinaire.

It's not just coach-speak for a guy they have to face one more time in his career.

He's a guy Utah coach Ron McBride would pay to watch. But he won't have to, and neither will Ute fans. Utah (1-1) plays at Indiana (0-1) Saturday at 3 p.m. MDT on KJZZ-Ch. 14 TV, so Mac will see Randle El up close.

"He's Steve Smith playing quarterback is what he is," he says, comparing him to the former Ute who's got Carolina Panther fans excited about NFL football again.

"He has the same kind of feet," McBride says of Randle El. "His feet don't come down the same. He can make you miss. He can do everything. He can punt. He can throw. He can run. He's like a magician. And he's tough. He can take hit after hit after hit and keep on playing. He's fun to watch. He plays with a lot of pizzazz."

Utah defensive coordinator. "Best offensive college football player I've ever faced, without question," he says as he looks for ways to slow down a guy who could easily set an all-time NCAA record in this game.

Randle El needs 188 yards passing for 6,000 in his career, and he needs just 32 rushing yards to reach 3,000. Nobody's ever combined 6,000 and 3,000, and if he returns to quarterback, as the Utes expect, such numbers are realistic Saturday.

"I'd rather not" be the defensive coach on the field when Randle El makes his mark, says Whittingham, but, "No one else has figured out a way to stop him."

Whittingham expects Randle El's quarterback touches to at least double what they were in Indiana's season-opening 35-14 loss at North Carolina State Sept. 6, when the Hoosiers debuted Randle El as receiver and used junior Tommy Jones as the starting QB.

It was a big flop. IU's offense never got going, and a coach with a 13-32 record is under heavy local pressure to scrap the new offense. But if he does, and IU fails with Randle El at QB, people will say the coach panicked.

Against NC State, Randle El had seven rushes, two passes, four receptions and punted three times in the second half but had just 44 yards total offense. He has 8,780 in his career. This week, he's listed as the starter at receiver, returner and punter, but coach Cam Cameron is coy, saying things can always change. He has changed receivers and fullback, free safety, defensive tackle and punter already.

Either way, Utah must prepare for Randle El on the option and Jones as a dropback passer behind an offensive line rated third-best in the country. That line helped IU lead the Big Ten in rushing last year, and everyone's back. And big - 325, 306, 299, 298, 297 with a 267-pound tight end. No starting lineman is shorter than 6-foor-3.

"It's a problem for anyone that plays them," Whittingham says.

Last year, when the Hoosiers were 3-8, 2-6 in conference, the problem was a defense that gave up 38.5 points a game while the offense scored 30.6. McBride said IU has improved. "The NC State game is probably not a fair game to judge them on because that game kinda got away from them on the offensive side of the ball. It wasn't on the defensive side," he said. Cameron laid the blame on the punt game that averaged 14.5 yards in the first half.

UTE NOTES: Start time for the Sept. 29 game with New Mexico will be 1 p.m. MDT. It will be televised live on ESPN+Plus/KJZZ-Ch. 14.


E-MAIL: lham@desnews.com