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It a strange question to consider: How is Tevin Carter going to handle starting at strong safety on Saturday?
Before last week, it wasn't an issue. But that was before freshman Chase Hansen started and Carter was a healthy scratch against the Huskies. Hansen was "phenomenal," in Kyle Whittingham's own words, leading the Utes with 11 tackles and forcing a fumble until he was injured on the very last play of the game.
Suddenly, Carter is back at the beginning of the time loop playing in the spot where he's started eight games this year. But linebacker Gionni Paul thinks his fellow senior's attitude will be a little different.
"I believe that he was just thinking in his head, 'Wow that could've been me. I need to make more plays. I need to fly around to the ball,' " Paul said of Carter. "I believe he'll go out there Saturday and do that."
The Utes need Carter to step up after announcing Hansen who had risen swiftly up the depth chart while switching over from quarterback will miss the rest of the year with a "lower leg injury." It's not clear if he will yet require surgery.
While his start against Washington was his first, Hansen was considered an up-and-coming star this year at safety. He still could be next season, depending on where he decides to play.
"He is going to be on the field for us somewhere next year, whether it's quarterback, or safety or whatever," Whittingham said. "He's going to be a starter. We just have to determine in the offseason what we're going to focus on with him."
Carter's focus is squarely on the game ahead. He's third on the team with 45 tackles (even after missing a game), has 3.5 tackles for a loss and 3 pass deflections. Whittingham said Carter's size makes him more of a box safety and a "tweener" who is physical in the run game, but can improve against the pass.
"It's really the coverage aspect that he needs to continue to work on," Whittingham said. "He has the run defense down. He's a very physical player in the box."
Phillips stays versatile in kicking game
Utah's junior kicker Andy Phillips was one of three kickers nationally honored as a Lou Groza Star of the week. In his performance against Washington: two field goals and four extra points in the rain.
And one tackle.
Phillips said he's ready to do whatever it takes in kickoff coverage to make the play. A former world-class skier, he's never been shy about trying to run downfield and hit someone. But midway through his third season, Phillips says he's developed a better feel for what is necessary.
"As I've kicked off more, I've learned to read kickoff return a little bit better and kind of know which gap to fill, when to hang back, when to attack," he said. "And I've made some mistakes, obviously, probably being a little too aggressive at some points and probably not aggressive at others."
One mistake sticks out: Against Arizona State, the Utes kick coverage allowed a 100-yard touchdown return to Tim White. Otherwise, Utah has the No. 3 kickoff coverage in the Pac-12, allowing under 21 yards on average.
While one school of thought suggests touchbacks are always the best defense, the Utes take a more tactical approach based on the returner and his blockers.
When a touchback is needed, Phillips said, he feels confident he can clear the end zone. He has 16 touchbacks this year. But sometimes, a touchback isn't needed.
"When you have great coverage, there's no real point in giving it to them on the 25-yard line when you can pin them on the 16 or even, like, the 23 and give our defense two extra yards," he said. "There's a huge advantage to being able to hang it up, make sure that they bring it out and knock 'em down hopefully inside the 20."
More injury updates
The Utes have missed two of their top trench players each of the last two games, and Whittingham didn't offer much encouragement that they will be back for Utah's next game against Arizona.
Defensive end Hunter Dimick, ailing from a shoulder injury, is in doubt to make the trip after not flying with the team last week. Kylie Fitts is expected to start. Center Saiosi Aiono is questionable with an apparent hand injury, replaced the last two games by Hiva Lutui.
Whittingham said the midseason injuries in 2015 have been particularly overwhelming, but in the same breath acknowledged that it can't be an excuse for coming up short on Saturday.
"The injuries this year have been mounting, really mounting," That's a concern, but nobody cares. Nobody feels sorry for you. People couldn't care less. You gotta just keep winning.