Last September, Utah running back Tavion Thomas had ball-security issues, fumbling in games against Weber State and BYU.
As a result, he had just two carries in the next two games.
Thomas, however, overcame that early adversity and ended up breaking the school’s single-season rushing touchdown record with 21; he also rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
During last Saturday’s 73-7 smashing of Southern Utah, Thomas coughed up the ball late in the first quarter, which led to the Thunderbirds’ only score of the game.
Thomas returned to the game and ended up rushing 11 times for 48 yards and two touchdowns.
Was that fumble an anomaly? Or has his fumble-itis returned?
During his Monday morning news conference, coach Kyle Whittingham said Thomas’ playing time won’t be reduced due to the turnover.
“Tavion is a physical back that had a ton of productivity for us last year. If it becomes habitual, and we can’t get it corrected, then we’ll have to take that measure,” he said. “But right now, we’re just working toward improving his ball security every day in practice. He did go a long stretch during the season last year after early problems securing the ball. We hope to get back to that.”
The No. 14 Utes (1-1) host San Diego State (1-1) Saturday (8 p.m. MDT, ESPN2).
After the win over SUU, Whittingham was asked if Thomas’ fumble was worrisome.
“I always worry about turnovers. That’s something that plagued him last year early in the season. He got it corrected and now it’s shown up this season a couple of times,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to work on it and emphasize it. It’s important to him. I know that. He’s not being reckless and loose with the ball in practice. He’s always focused on it. There are lapses in games where it gets a little loose and we have to fix that.”
How do the coaches build him up when fumbles happen?
“You continue to feed him the ball. It’s one fumble,” Whittingham said. “You don’t just yank him and sit him on the bench for long periods of time.”
Against SUU, the Utes rolled up 247 yards rushing. Chris Curry had 60 yards and a touchdown on six carries.
“Chris played very well. In fact, you could say that was his best game as a Ute,” Whittingham said. “He was very productive.”
Overall, Whittingham liked the way his team responded after suffering a 29-26 loss at Florida in the season opener.
“We played like we’re supposed to. A lot of positive things in that game,” he said. “The score aside, we just played better in fundamentals and technique, particularly the front seven of the defense. … Everything that was so bad in Week 1 was much-improved in Week 2.”
Whittingham reported that his team came out of the game with no season-ending injuries, though he did say that linebacker Mohamoud Diabate left the game in the second quarter due to an injury.
Utes on the air
San Diego State (1-1) at No. 14 Utah (1-1)
Saturday, 8 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700