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The No. 13 Utes will be without Devontae Booker, who leads the nation in carries per game, as they pursue a Pac-12 South title the next two weeks.
As first reported by 700 AM and confirmed by The Tribune, the senior running back injured his meniscus in Utah's double-overtime loss to Arizona and underwent surgery Thursday. He will not be available this Saturday against UCLA or next against Colorado, and his status for a bowl game is questionable.
Few teams lean on one player as much as Utah does on Booker. His 26.8 carries per game are first in the nation, as are his 305 touches from scrimmage.
Since arriving from American River College and seizing the starting job four games into the 2014 season, Booker has become the school's third all-time leading rusher, with 2,773 yards, and tied a school record against the Wildcats with his 14th 100-yard game.
Analysts at Pro Football Focus told The Tribune that Booker grades as the nation's second-best back, shedding 10 tackles in Tucson alone. CBS Sports rates him as the NFL draft's No. 3 rusher, its top senior back. He ranks third on the team in receptions, with 37, and the threat of the preseason Heisman candidate may have impacted the effectiveness of Utah's zone-read keepers, which have accounted for the bulk of quarterback Travis Wilson's 367 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
Junior Joe Williams, a junior college transfer who previously played at UConn, is expected to take Booker's place. Williams has 17 carries for 78 yards, including 50 total yards on 10 touches in Tucson.
"He'll get the lion's share if Devontae can't go," Kyle Whittingham said at Monday's media availability, estimating Williams' workload at between 20 and 25 carries.
"He's like a 10.5 100 meter guy, so that's his real forte, is his speed," Whittingham said, calling Williams "the heir apparent." "He's not quite as big. Maybe 10, 12 pounds lighter than Devontae. But he's explosive, and he's tough, and he's a good back."
Whittingham said it was also a "distinct possibility" that senior Bubba Poole, currently playing slot receiver, would take some of the carries in Booker's stead. Poole has rushed for 839 yards in his career, with 21 yards on five carries this season.
Asked for comment Thursday, the team said there was no update on Booker's injury status.
UCLA ranks 83rd nationally in rushing defense, conceding 182 yards per game, but has an average of 132 in its past four outings.
UCLA at No. 18 Utah
P Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 13