Coming off a performance that saw him rush 10 times for 117 yards and a touchdown in Utah’ most recent game, a 24-13 victory over Washington State, running back T.J. Pledger sits behind Micah Bernard on this week’s depth chart, heading into Saturday’s game at USC.
But Bernard left the WSU game with an injury and his status is uncertain.
“T.J. Pledger certainly had a terrific game. He put himself squarely in the conversation as the guy that’s in position to possibly be the primary back,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “Micah Bernard was banged up in that game and he had to leave that game and didn’t return. But when he’s healthy, he’s a terrific player.”
The Utes have been looking for a consistent ball carrier this season.
Bernard had 12 attempts for 146 yards and a touchdown in a loss on Sept. 11 at BYU. He had a fumble against Washington State.
That was a theme against WSU as Utah finished with seven fumbles, losing three.
Behind Bernard and Pledger, the Utes have Tavion Thomas, who has had trouble holding onto the ball.
“Tavion Thomas is still a guy that we think has a ton of upside but we’ve got to get the ball security situation corrected,” Whittingham said. “Chris Curry adds to what they’re doing. … Going into Week 5, we’re still getting good production in the run game. It just seems to be different each week. T.J. certainly made a move. Whether or not Micah is ready to go this week will certainly have a bearing on that as well. At some point, we need to find out who Tavion Thomas is and what he brings to the table.”
Whittingham said Tuesday that his team plans on attending the funeral of defensive back Aaron Lowe, who died on Sept. 26.
The services will be held Monday in the Dallas area.
“It’s not mandatory but everybody that chooses to go will be able to get on the charter and attend the funeral — players, coaches and staff,” Whittingham said.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd said it’s been therapeutic for his team to be back at practice and preparing for an opponent.
“Just being out here with the guys and being on the field, it takes your mind away from it. It’s a blessing to be out here and be in this environment.”
The problem with the fumbles has been addressed. It’s always being addressed, according to Whittingham.
“We work on it every day. It’s not like we just started working on it. We started working on it back in the spring and throughout fall camp,” he said. “We’re going to chalk that up hopefully as an anomaly and do a better job holding on to the ball.”
Quarterback Cam Rising was asked what’s been the biggest improvement his team has made since the bye week.
“Ball security,” he said. “We’ve been working it to a ‘T’ and making sure that we’re getting it locked in and holding on to the ball.”
Filling the Van
Freshman defensive end Van Fillinger was named the Pac-12 Defensive Line Player of the Week on Sept. 27. He has recorded 11 tackles, including three sacks for 21 yards this season. All three of those sacks came against Washington State, marking the first Utah freshman in program history to have three sacks in a game.
“The competition doesn’t end,” defensive ends coach Lewis Powell said of the D-linemen. “Fortunately for (Fillinger), he’s been doing good. They’re all starting to turn the corner. I don’t remember the last time we had a starting freshman defensive end since Jason Kaufusi, back when I was playing. Those guys are competing every day and they’re excited to play this week.”
Whittingham acknowledged that it’s difficult to forecast what’s going to happen from week to week in the Pac-12, such as Stanford’s upset of No. 3 Oregon in overtime last Saturday.
“The thing about the Pac-12 is, you never know what to expect. That’s the consistency. The consistency is the inconsistency. Some of the scores, Oregon, who would have thought that?” Whittingham said. “Although Stanford is a good, physical football team. The way Oregon was playing, No. 3 in the country, you didn’t see that coming. I think there’s only three teams in the conference that don’t have conference losses. Us, Arizona State and Oregon State. Only three out of 12 teams without a conference loss. That tells you about the balance in this league.”