SALT LAKE CITY — With just over two weeks to go before No. 11 Utah takes on Texas in the 2019 Valero Alamo Bowl, Kyle Whittingham said at a Thursday morning press conference his team will be without two of its safeties for the bowl game.
Whittingham said senior Julian Blackmon, a First Team All-American, and sophomore R.J. Hubert suffered season-ending injuries in the Pac-12 Championship game and will be out for the upcoming bowl game. Whittingham added that both suffered “fairly serious injuries.”
Blackmon, who has risen up several NFL draft boards this season after his move from cornerback to safety this year, suffered a non-contact knee injury in the first half against Oregon. Hubert, who stepped in to provide depth and alternative schemes for Utah in the backfield throughout the course of the season, left minutes later in the game.
The university has not confirmed the extent of either player’s injury.
In their absence, Utah utilized transfer Nephi Sewell, who was recently ruled eligible by the NCAA after transferring to Utah from Nevada this summer, to fill the void. Sewell will still redshirt this year, but has eligibility left this season and will likely be the starting free safety alongside strong safety Terrell Burgess in the bowl game.
Utah stayed relatively healthy throughout the season and didn’t lose any players to season-ending injuries until the championship game. Other players were banged up throughout the course of its game against Oregon, but Whittingham said he didn’t believe there were any other injuries to players that would preclude guys from playing in the bowl game.
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Players skipping bowl games?
As bowl season comes around, several high-profile athletes choose to forego the final game in an effort to preserve NFL draft marketability — players don’t want to get injured. Utah has several players that could potentially be drafted in the first three rounds of the draft and could choose to skip the bowl game.
Whittingham, however, is not aware of any player from his team that has made that decision at this time. He said that if any of his players decide to skip out on the bowl game he’ll support them but hopes they have the right people in their corner giving them good information about their future career possibilities.
“If an athlete wants to forego the bowl season and move on, we’ll support him as well,” he said. “I don’t necessarily agree with it all the time. The main thing to me is that they’re listening to the right people — that we’re not the only ones in the ear — so as long as they’re getting good information and making a decision that is the right one.
“I believe more times than not you improve your draft stock by playing in the game and finishing your career.”
Utah will meet up with Texas on Dec. 31 at 5:30 p.m. in San Antonio, Texas. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and will be one of five bowl games around the country played on New Year’s Eve.