Utah football: Utes' offensive line continues to evolve
Utah football notes • Teammates' injuries mean redshirt freshman Siaosi Aiono will start.
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Minutes after talking up USC's defense on Monday, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made this admission: Yep, the Utah Utes have another new guy on the ever-changing offensive line.

With juniors Latu Heimuli and Vyncent Jones unavailable due to injuries, the Utes are left with starting redshirt freshman Siaosi Aiono at right guard.

It is far from an ideal situation, particularly when the Utes are going up against a defense that ranks fifth in the Pac-12 and 36th nationally, giving up 346.5 yards, but the Utes have little choice, Whittingham said.

"He is the next guy in line," said Whittingham of Aiono, who will be playing in just his second game of the year.

Utah center Tevita Stevens said Utah's linemen have put in extra time to help Aiono catch up, but acknowledged there is always a difference when a youngster is inserted into the fray.

"When you are playing with experienced guys, when there is a call you know what everyone is doing and you might even get a little extra help," he said. "I have to be one of the guys making sure what we are doing is right. That is the responsibility of the seniors, and we have to let our guys know we all have each other's backs and what we are doing on plays and trust each other."

Secret to the success

Asked what Stanford did to beat USC 21-14, Whittingham pointed to the way Stanford's line played as well as the secondary.

"That was the biggest factor in the game," Whittingham said.

In contrast, Utah's defense gave up 21 first-quarter points to Arizona State, but the Utes believe they can perform better against the Trojans and worked on their miscues during the bye week.

Whittingham said the goal, as always, would be to stop the run first.

"I don't know if you can make them a one-dimensional team," he said. "But we work hard every single week to control the run game."

Injury report

Hindering the Utes against ASU was the absence of defensive end Joe Kruger and safety Eric Rowe. Rowe, who has missed two games with a hamstring injury, will play Thursday, Whittingham said. Kruger remains questionable.

Rowe said following practice Monday he was ready to go.

"Missing two games then the bye week, I'm ready to get back out there," he said.

Some tickets available

Thursday's game has been a calendar highlight ever since the Pac-12 schedule was released, but tickets are still available through various sources, including Utah's ticket office. The ticket office released a limited number of standing-room-only and bleacher seats on Monday.

A sellout crowd, the 15th in a row, is expected.

Utah sold 2,000 tickets to USC.

lwodraska@sltrib.com