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Loss of Viane Moala is a blow to the defensive line. Here’s who will help fill the void

Defensive lineman suffered season-ending injury during loss to San Diego State, but his influence will still be felt moving forward

Utah defensive tackle Viane Moala (98) is lifted on to a stretcher during game against San Diego State, Sept. 18, 2021.
Utah defensive tackle Viane Moala (98) is lifted on to a stretcher during game against San Diego State Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021, in Carson, Calif. The injury proved to be season ending.
Ashley Landis, Associated Press

In the second half of Utah’s 33-31 triple-overtime loss to San Diego State last Saturday, senior defensive tackle Viane Moala suffered an injury and remained on the turf for several minutes.

Eventually, his teammates lifted him onto a stretcher and he was carted off the field. Moala ended up going to the hospital in the Los Angeles area.

On Monday, coach Kyle Whittingham announced that Moala’s season is over.

“It’s a blow for our defensive front,” Whittingham said. “He was the leader of that defensive tackle group … Fortunately, we have a very deep group of defensive tackles. We knew going into the season we had good depth there.”

Defensive tackles coach Sione Po’uha said Moala, a 6-foot-6, 304-pound native of American Samoa, leaves a big void on the defense at left tackle.

“Viane’s physical presence is pretty intimidating and it is meaningful. But you see the impact that he has on our team and the way the guys rallied at the end,” Po’uha said. “They did it because of his leadership and they did it because of him. Maybe not physically he’s here with us but everybody has purpose through Viane. He’s had an influence on us and he’ll continue to have an influence on us.”

“Viane being gone, he was a big part of our defensive line,” said defensive end Mika Tafua. “Not only did he make plays and was disruptive, but he also had a lot of energy to him.”

Starting in Moala’s spot at left tackle Saturday (12:30 p.m. MDT, Pac-12 Network) will be freshman Junior Tafuna, a 6-foot-3, 290-pounder out of Bingham High. It will mark his first career start.

“All the guys have emerged in their own way. Junior has been preparing day-in and day-out and has put in the work,” Po’uha said. “When his number’s called, he’s ready to go. That goes for every single guy on the defensive front.”

Tafua has confidence in all of the defensive linemen.

“I feel like the guys that are behind him have that same energy. He was a starter for a reason. I feel like the other guys aren’t far behind him. I don’t want to say they’ll replace him because V’s one of a kind,” he said. “Everybody on this team has their own thing that they bring to the table. But I definitely believe that all of our other D-tackles have things they can help our defense with.”