Utah football: Utes' stout run defense faces tough test against Georgia Tech
College football • Yellow Jackets' option attack averages 316.8 yards on ground.
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El Paso, Texas • The run game continues to be the main topic of discussion as Georgia Tech and Utah begin their preparations for the Sun Bowl here in El Paso.

The Yellow Jackets rank third nationally averaging 316.8 yards a game on the ground while the Utes rank seventh nationally giving up just 97 yards on the ground.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said Utah's defense looked like one of the best against the run he has seen.

"They run well to the ball," he said. "Their defensive line, linebackers and secondary are all physical, good tacklers. That said, we have to do what we do. We can't change what we do so we have to find a way to execute a little bit."

From Johnson's perspective, he predicted the biggest difference in the game will be his team's ability to stop Utah's John White.

Georgia Tech's rushing defense is giving up 162.9 yards a game this year to rank just 70th nationally.

"The biggest difference in the game could be can we stop their rushing attack," Johnson said. "I'll be real honest. We've struggled with power running teams all year so it's going to be a huge challenge to our front seven to see if we can stop their run."

As for the Utes, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Utah's experience against the option should help the Utes.

"You can't stop it, you just try to keep it under control," Whittingham said.

No censoring needed

Whittingham said he wasn't clamping down on his players' use of Twitter or other social media outlets this week. Last year, receiver DeVonte Christopher stirred up the hornets' nest by referring to Boise State as "Girlse State."

"I know he learned from that and hopefully we've all learned something and the rest of our team did," Whittingham said. "Our team is pretty good about that. We're not perfect and we have issues from time to time. We have certain parameters and guidelines we follow but it's common sense and good judgement. I'd hate to take away those mediums from them, the fact is it's a part of their life, that is not going to change."

Injury report

White showed no lingering signs of the ankle injury that he suffered against Colorado in Tuesday's practice.

"I'm 100 percent," he said. "No problems."

Defensive end Joe Kruger and offensive lineman Sam Brenner have recovered too and are 100 percent, Whittingham said.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said of offensive lineman Miles Mason, who injured his arm just before Christmas and sat out Tuesday's practice. He is questionable for the game, Whittingham said.

If he can't play, sophomore Jeremiah Tofaeono will start in Mason's place at left guard.

Back again

While others spent the Christmas break relaxing, Norm Chow tried to grasp the reality that he is now a head coach. Chow is still emotional over leaving the Utes and admitted he was a little overwhelmed with his new role with Hawaii.

"I knew, but I still didn't realize everything that goes with it," he said. "I told Kyle he has to help me, he has to help me a lot. It's a whole different ball game being a head coach. I didn't realize the enormity of it all."

Chow said his focus is on the Utes this week and will worry about making hires for Hawaii following the bowl game.

"The focus is here and now," he said. "Recruiting is dead right now and we'll get the staff straightened out later."

Of note

Whittingham was disappointed to lose offensive lineman Alexandru Ceachir to UCLA but said he was happy with the way Utah's recruiting has gone, particularly with the signing of running back Kelvin York out of Fullerton College.

"He's a great back," Whittingham said. "We are going to be fine with who we've got."

Ceachir was recruited by Chow and committed to the Utes largely because of Chow. He signed with UCLA instead after Chow took the head job at Hawaii.

The Utes have commitments from six other offensive linemen.

lwodraska@sltrib.com