The Pac-12 has been dealt some pretty terrible injury blows this season to some of its star players.
Adding running back Devontae Booker to that list after he was hurt against Arizona is a shame. After emerging last season as the go-to back for the Utes, he came into this year as a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman and was a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators -- only three times this season was he held to fewer than 100 yards.
Even with defenses keying in on Booker more this season, he continued to impress for No. 13 Utah.
While other running backs have scored more rushing touchdowns or accrued more rushing yardage, there is no back in the country who was asked to do more for his team than Booker.
Through 10 games, Booker averaged 26.8 carries per game. His 30.5 offensive touches per game are the most by any player in FBS since Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey, who averaged 31.3 offensive touches per game in 2013.
He accounted for 63 percent of the Utes’ carries and rushing first downs, 69 percent of the Utes’ rushing yardage and 11 of the Utes’ 20 rushing touchdowns. Even with the growth in Travis Wilson’s game, the Utes always were going to be a run-first team as long as it could employ Booker to punish defenses.
But with UCLA and Colorado on the horizon, Utah will now turn to running back Joe Williams to carry the load. The Bruins’ run defense has -- like Utah’s run game -- been hampered by injuries. Even so, UCLA has given up just 182 rushing yards per game and 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Colorado just held USC to 129 rushing yards (3.5 yards per rush) and zero rushing touchdowns, showing serious signs of progress in Boulder.
Williams has registered only 19 carries this season and has played in only two of the last five games for the Utes. When he came in against Arizona in relief of Booker, he carried the ball seven times and registered three receptions.
Like Booker, Williams was a junior college transfer. He played at ASA College in Brooklyn after spending the 2012 season with Connecticut. He was a NJCAA second-team All-American during his second year at ASA and came into fall camp this year as the Utes’ second-fastest player.
It's unrealistic to expect the same production from Williams as the Utes got from Booker. And likewise, it's impossible to expect Utah to be the same team without Booker. The Utes still could win their final two games, but they will have to go about it in a much different way than was expected even a day ago.
The Utes to the Alamo Bowl? Don't book that trip yet.