Utah Football: Has he finally found his running back man?
The Utes are looking for a reliable fullback who can deliver consistent output and keep the football going.
Utah found its man in junior TJ Pledger?
In the Utes’ 24-13 win over Washington State, the Oklahoma transfer rushed 10 times for 117 yards and a touchdown. He interrupted a 59-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
And that TD, a 20-yard with 4:43 left in the game, was a huge one. Pledger’s TD gave Utah the lead in earnest in a contest that saw the offense fumbling for the ball seven times, losing three.
Perhaps his most important statistic was that he didn’t fumble.
“Our line did a great job opening a hole,” Pledger said of the touchdown. “They did a great job and I am very proud of them.”
“TJ came in and did a really good job,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “His streak of 60 was important. He was very consistent. “
For quarterback Cam Rising, who made his first start of the season, watching Pledger break free and enter the end zone was a magnificent sight.
“I love giving the ball to (Pledger). He’s a playmaker,” Rising said. “He showed it right there. I like to see that, especially when he hit that crease. is a beautiful thing to see.
At the start of the game, Pledger had run the ball just six times for 11 yards. In the Utes’ first offensive streak of the season, against Weber State on September 2, Pledger gave up what appeared to be a sure touchdown and Utah had to settle for a field goal.
The 5-foot-9, 196-pound native of Pacoima, Calif., Had to learn patience while waiting for another chance to shine.
“I went through a lot at university. One thing I do know is you have to stay prepared, ”Pledger said. “It is being patient and understanding that my time will come one day. It’s about taking advantage of your opportunities.
Much of Pledger’s motivation comes from being the father of a young girl, who lives in Oklahoma.
During fall camp, when asked what makes him tick, Pledger said, “My family. My journey. My daughter is my biggest motivation at the moment. Waking up everyday thinking about her and being able to come here and play the game that I love.
Then he added: “I miss her.”
But last Saturday, his daughter was present at the Rice-Eccles stadium.
Afterwards, he expressed his gratitude for everything he went through and he recognized the emotions he was feeling.
“It was great. After the game I held my daughter in my arms and had tears in my eyes just because it’s not easy,” Pledger said. “College football is not easy. You go through ups and downs. I feel like the ones who are able to do their best every day are the ones who end up being successful. It meant a lot to me. I am grateful to my coaches for always believing in me and in my teammates.
Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald knows Pledger is a versatile running back.
“Not only can he catch the ball, but he breaks a lot of tackles and he’s very elusive,” said McDonald. “We thought that with his technique and skill he could go into this offense and be very, very productive.”
Pledger signed with Utah after being transferred from Oklahoma last winter. He was a four-star prospect at IMG Academy in Florida before signing with the Sooners. But he grew up in Pacoima, outside of Los Angeles.
The Utes’ next game is at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, home of the USC Trojans, on October 9 (6 p.m. MDT, Fox).
One of the reasons Pledger made a commitment to the Utes was the tradition of school runners after producing stars like Devin Booker, Zack Moss and Ty Jordan.
“I wanted to come and be a part of it,” he said.
Pledger was an accomplished running back in Oklahoma with big game experience.
Last season, he set up a career day with 22 carries and 131 yards and two touchdowns in the Sooners’ 53-45 win over rival Texas in four overtime in the Red River Showdown.
Now he’s looking to make his mark as Ute.
“That says everything. Ending my college career, being able to come back to this side of the coast and play in front of my family and new fans means a lot to me, ”Pledger said earlier this year. “I haven’t played a lot of people I know because I’ve been in the Big 12. But coming back to the West Coast and being able to play familiar faces is going to be a lot of fun.”