Injuries are the way of life for a college football team, such is the way the colors of the leaves on the trees change in autumn.
Four games into the college football season and some of Dixie State’s position groups resemble a MASH unit.
Two offensive line starters, Zach Lugris and Tim Ah Hee, remain from the Trailblazers’ opening game. The other three are expected to miss the rest of the season with various injuries.
Blake Barney is expected to see his first playing time this week after he had surgery on his left knee. He wore a green jersey at practice on Wednesday, meaning the defense wasn’t allowed to hit him, but it’s unknown how much he’ll feature.
Freshman quarterback Josh Thompson started the last two games in place of the injured Tyson Blackner, also out for the year. And just when DSU thought the injuries were stacking up, Thompson is dealing with an injury now.
That MASH unit has a daunting task at home this Saturday at 1 p.m. as DSU (1-3, 1-2 RMAC) plays Western State Colorado (3-1, 3-1 RMAC) for the first time ever.
The task for the defense, which isn’t as banged up as the offense, is trying to stop WSU running back Austin Ekeler.
He leads the RMAC in rushing (208 yards per game), scoring (66 points) and all-purpose yards (231.2 per game). And Ekeler leads all NCAA active players in all divisions in career rushing yards with 5,194.
“He’s a hard, tough runner. You can’t arm-tackle him. You have to run your feet through him,” linebacker Peter Brown said. “Like coach has said, No. 31 right now is our key to stop and then we’ll let everything else play out.”
The notion of stopping Ekeler is folly to nearly every team. Colorado Mesa, arguably the RMAC’s best team, held Ekeler to 110 yards, but he averaged 5.8 yards per rush.
Colorado Mines, another member of the RMAC’s elite football schools, didn’t have such luck. Ekeler ran for 316 yards and three scores against the Orediggers.
Head coach Shay McClure said Dixie State can only hope to contain Ekeler.
“He doesn’t look overly explosive speed-wise, until all of a sudden he breaks one and then you’re like ‘Whoa, this kid does have a second gear,'” McClure said.
Meanwhile, the offensive line and quarterback injuries have left the offense sputtering, so much so that running back Orlando Wallace played quarterback during last week’s 40-18 loss at Central Washington.
The injuries affect the game plan, but Wallace and McClure aren’t making excuses.
“We’re just not executing to perfection like we need to do,” Wallace said.
DSU sits at 1-3 overall, 1-2 in the RMAC and has lost its last three games in a row. The two conference losses (not including the CWU game) were by four and six points. It’s better than last year, when DSU’s first two conference losses were by 29 and 18 points.
The losing record is more of the same Dixie State over the years, but McClure is encouraged by his team’s competitiveness.
“Our kids compete. They go out and they don’t give up and they battle, and they battle, and they battle,” McClure said.
Contact reporter Patrick Carr on Twitter @PatrickCarr_ and on Facebook at Facebook.com/PatrickJosephCarr1/ or call him at (435) 231-3834.