The Utah Utes are a team that is poised to be a darkhorse in the Pac 12 in 2012. After nearly winning the South division last season, the Utes return one of the strongest defenses in the conference, the leading returning rusher, and a good shot to challenge for one of the top spots in the conference. However, that goal may have hit a bit of a snag as the number two running back on the depth chart, sophomore Harvey Langi, has announced he will be leaving the team to go on his LDS mission. He will leave later this month for Tampa, Florida, slated to return to the team in 2014.
Langi came to Utah as a highly touted prospect out of Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah. In his freshman campaign of 2011, Langi carried the ball just 13 times for 70 yards, but had impressed the Utah coaching staff in spring ball. Langi came into the spring adding some good weight and caught the eye of head coach Kyle Whittingham. Whittingham liked what Langi was doing, saying that the “light switch” was starting to flip for the young running back and he was starting to live up to the potential Utah saw in him out of high school.Whittingham went so far as to name Langi the “Most improved player” coming out of Utah’s spring practices.
The Utes aren’t going to be in too much trouble without Langi, though. The backfield is anchored by the Pac 12′s leading returning rusher in John White IV, who finished second in the conference in rushing and 11th nationally. He averaged nearly 117 yards per game last season and earned second-team all-conference honors. He will likely be the premier rusher in the conference this season and lead one of the top rushing attacks on the West coast.
Behind White, the Utes will have Kelvin York, who was splitting time with Langi as the backup running back. York is a mid-year junior college transfer from Fullerton College who averaged 130.5 yards per game and 6.3 yards per rush in 2010. At over 220 pounds, York will be used as a nice change of pace running back to the 185-pound White. With his size, the Utes have also experimented using York as a fullback and in multi-running back sets. With Langi no longer on the roster, the bulk of the workload of spelling White will fall on York.
Utah will also look to redshirt freshman Jarrell Oliver to take some reps as well. Oliver combines good size at 5’8″ 210 pounds with an impressive spring to solidify his hold onto the bottom of the running back depth chart. With Langi away from the team, the Utes will turn to York as their primary number two runner and Oliver as their number three. With three solid contributors in the backfield, the Utes will look to establish themselves as the premier running team in the Pac 12.
The Utes will then be in a stronger position down the road because of Langi’s decision. While the backfield looks a bit crowded right now, things will thin out. In 2014, after White and York have likely departed, the Utes will get Langi back, hopefully in similar shape to what he’s leaving in, to go along with Oliver who should have a couple solid years of experience under his belt.
There’s no guarantee what the incoming running backs will look like, so having a “sure thing” coming back in 2014 will put the coaches’ minds at ease. So while the Utes will miss Langi this season, they’ll be just fine in his absence with a very deep backfield which will be made even stronger when he returns two years from now.