SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lost big-play wide receiver Dres Anderson to a season-ending knee injury, a significant blow for an offense that has sputtered at times.
Anderson led No. 18 Utah with 355 yards receiving and four touchdowns.
The senior from Riverside, California, was hurt in the fourth quarter of Utah’s 24-21 comeback win over Southern California on Saturday. Anderson, a team captain, finished the game with three catches for 30 yards, including a key reception that gave the Utes a first down on their way to the winning touchdown with 8 seconds remaining.
“We feel bad for Dres. It’s heartbreaking,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after practice Wednesday. “That kid is a fifth-year senior. He’s poured everything he had into this program for five years. Nobody has outworked him. Nobody has done more for us than Dres during that period of time.”
Utah (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) faces No. 15 Arizona State (6-1, 4-1) in Tempe on Saturday as the Utes try to stay on top of the South Division.
Over his career Anderson has hauled in 134 passes for 2,077 yards, becoming one of five receivers in program history to reach the 2,000-yard mark. He was 91 yards away from tying Dennis Smith for fourth all-time at Utah.
In addition Anderson has 17 career TD catches, tied for sixth-most in school history. He was honorable mention All-Pac 12 in 2013, when he had 1,002 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.
He’s the son of former NFL wide receiver Willie “Flipper” Anderson.
“He’s handling it good,” fellow Utes wide receiver Kenneth Scott said. “I talked to him. He’s still got that smile. He’s still the same Dres. I just told him to keep his head up. This injury is a little bump in his road.”
The Utes are no strangers to overcoming big injuries. A year ago, quarterback Travis Wilson was lost for the season when the team discovered a preexisting medical condition during a concussion diagnosis. An initial scan for the concussion turned up evidence of damage to an artery in his brain.
Wilson was cleared to return in June.
Utah has struggled to get its offense revved up, ranking 11th in the conference in passing offense (192 yards per game). Whittingham has alternated between Wilson and Kendal Thompson at quarterback, hoping one would stand out and provide a spark. Wilson took a step forward over the weekend, especially after leading Utah on the winning drive.
Whittingham talked about the tenacity of his team at his press conference on Monday.
“The governing from within that is usually associated with all good football teams is there,” Whittingham said. “It’s great to see that happen, and that’s a tough group of guys. Our leaders are a tough group of guys. They are mentally and physically tough as well, and I think that permeates throughout the rest of the football team.”
With Anderson out, Kenneth Scott, Kaelin Clay and Westlee Tonga have to pick up the slack. The Utes also will rely on the running of tailback Devontae Booker, who has rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games.
Utah has a tough matchup this weekend against the Sun Devils, who have beaten the Utes 10 straight times. Utah’s last win over ASU was in 1976 when both teams were members of the Western Athletic Conference.
“We’ve just got to play our game and do the things that have gotten us to this point,” Whittingham said. “I think that’s all we can do.”
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