Wide takes Utah's starting RB role with a heavy heart

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

Eddie Wide didn’t think much about starting running back Matt Asiata's knee buckling after scoring a 24-yard touchdown in the first quarter against Louisville two weeks ago.

“At first I thought it was just a little minor injury, nothing too serious,” Wide said.

But the injury was serious enough to keep Asiata on the sidelines as Wide finished the game with 19 carries for 129 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.

But the moment was bittersweet when Wide learned his good friend Asiata had torn his ACL and was done for the season and possibly his career.

“After he got the results that he was hurt, then was it was like, that sucks,” Wide said. “The experience I’ve had in past games gotten me ready for this role, but I wasn’t looking forward to it as far as for it to happen this way. Matt’s a great friend of mine and it just sucks that he went down.”

Wide will be the team’s feature running back beginning this weekend against Colorado State, a role the junior wanted, but thought he wouldn’t get until after Asiata graduated this season.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said this was supposed to be Asiata’s year. After dealing with injuries the first year after he transferred from Snow College and then splitting time with Darrell Mack last season, Asiata was finally going to have a season where he could show NFL scouts his worth.

But even in fall camp Asiata started suffering minor injuries that would keep him out of practices and parts of games. So in Asiata’s stead, Wide gained experience and became comfortable with the offense. He and freshman Sausan Shakerin gave the Utah offense an element of quickness that was different from Asiata’s bruising running style.

“Quickness is his primary asset,” Whittingham said of Wide. “Quick feet, excellent change in direction. He’s a capable runner inside. He’s not a big guy, he’s 190 pounds, but he’ll slam it in there. He’s not afraid to run in between the tackles and actually does a pretty good job of that. But he’s not the power back that Matt Asiata is. He’s more of a guy that relies on speed and quickness.”

While Wide spent the bye week becoming accustomed to getting all the first-team reps, he said it still felt odd because of the way he inherited the position. Wide said he knows he has a job to do, but that it doesn’t make it any easier not having Asiata around.

“We talk every once in awhile,” Wide said. “He hasn’t been around the facility. He can’t do that right now, you know? It’s kind of tough for him. But he’s been telling me to keep it going, and keep the team on the right track. He’s trying to give everybody the motivation that they need.”

Whittingham said the offense won’t change much with Wide in the backfield. Some of the running schemes might change to allow Wide to get in the open field, a place he said he’s more comfortable running. While Wide said he’s not afraid to run up between the tackles, all of Utah’s running backs -- Wide, Shakerin and converted wide receiver Shaky Smithson -- like to get outside the tackles and make defenders miss.

“We’ll gear the run game to what Eddie does best,” Whittingham said. “But we feel he’s a pretty good all-around runner, so there’s really no need to have any dramatic changes to the run game.”

Wide said he spent the bye week working on his past protection to help stifle Colorado State’s pass rush. He also spent the week proving to his teammates that he can be a competent full-time replacement for Asiata. While he feels bad for his friend, he doesn’t want to disrespect him by not continuing to show the effort he showed daily.

“I’m just going to do my job and make sure everyone knows I’m going to take care of my responsibility and step up,” Wide said.