14 July 2016: Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham during the 2016 Pac-12 Media Day in Hollywood, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
Utah Utes

Utah running back depth being tested by injuries in 2016

(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

No. 21 Utah picked up a 36-23 win over Arizona this past weekend, but the headlines surrounding the Utes were anything but positive on Monday afternoon.

Sophomore Armand Shyne entered the game as the starter and he looked great in his first career start. Shyne, after picking up some momentum in the past few weeks as a backup, rushed 19 times for 101 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 5.3 yards per rush and was the first Utah running back this season to rush for over 100 yards.

It was a great effort from Shyne, but it was an effort that was marred by injury. Shyne injured his leg against the Wildcats, bad news made even worse when considering that he is just one of a handful of Utah backs that have been injured this season — a troubling trend. True freshman Zach Moss was the team’s leading rusher entering the Arizona game but he couldn’t play due to injury. Junior running back Troy McCormick was out as well against Arizona, and that’s not even mentioning senior running back Joe Williams, who began the year as the starter but then had to abruptly retire due to injury.

After the game, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham did not have a positive outlook for Shyne this season, and he seemed exasperated over his team’s bad injury luck, especially at running back.

“It doesn’t look good,” he said via Amy Donaldson of Deseret News Sports. “And that’s a big issue for us right now because Troy McCormick was out, Zack Moss was out, and now it looks like Armand is out. It could be season-ending. That’s a big blow for us.”

Even Junior walk-on Jordan Howard, who took over at running back after Shyne’s injury, got banged up against Arizona. Banged up so bad, in fact, that he’s been ruled out for this weekend’s game against Oregon State. On Monday, Whittingham also confirmed his suspicions regarding Shyne.

Utah’s sixth running back is redshirt freshman Marcel Manalo, who’s a 5-foot-11, 220 pound back from Rio Linda, Calif. Manalo made his first college appearance in last week’s game against Arizona. He doesn’t have any college stats yet so really he’s an unknown for those observing the Utes. That doesn’t mean he’s unknown to Utah’s staff, though, and it’s worth noting that Whittingham did have some positive things to say about him.

“He was doing some really good things early in the spring,” Whittingham said. “When Zack came in and Armand, he got beat out by those guys. … He just needs to keep working.”

Manalo was a three-star as a recruit, though he did put up some impressive numbers at the high school level. In three years playing varsity football for Rio Linda High School, he notched 5,457 yards and 70 touchdowns, including 1,972 yards and 29 touchdowns his senior year (averaging 151.7 yards per game). Manalo was a first-team MaxPreps All-Sac-Joaquin Selection as a running back as a senior and a Sacramento Bee first-team all-metro player as a junior and senior.

If anything, we know what Manalo is a survivor with an extremely tough mental attitude, traits that should do him well on the football field. During his redshirt season he was shot twice during an argument near his house. His teammate, Lo Falemaka, was also shot; the suspects escaped. Falemaka had to spend a week in the hospital. Manalo got out the same day and used the incident as motivation.

“Basically when I play now, I feel like no one can hurt me, no one can stop me,” he told Griffin Adams of campusrush.com. “Because I obviously went through that, my mindset is, ‘I went through that, I can get through everything.'”

In no way does surviving a shooting and turning it into a positive compare to having to step up in the situation that Utah is in, but at the very least Whittingham and his team know that if they have to rely on Manalo against Oregon State, he has the mental fortitude to put the pressure behind him and do what he has to do.

There’s also a glimmer of hope that Moss will be able to take the field again for the Utes. In the team notes he’s “Tentatively scheduled to start at running back” and he was labeled as a game-time decision by Whittingham.

No matter who ends up carrying the load for Utah at running back, the Utes have to hope that their bad luck at running back will finally run out.

Utah running back depth being tested by injuries in 2016
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