Kyle Whittingham clarifies Sione Vaki's role after offensive breakout
Kyle Whittingham says things are trending in the direction of Sione Vaki — Utah’s leading tackler on defense — transitioning into more of an offense-focused role with the Utes.
The safety’s last two games (both Utah wins) have featured a 158-yard rushing performance and a 149-yard receiving performance. Since Utah has put him into a wildcat/tailback role in the backfield, Vaki has 370 yards of total offense at 12.3 yards a touch.
The Utes have found something.
“You’ll continue to see him over there,” Whittingham said Monday when he met with reporters. “The impact he’s made on offense is actually probably bigger than the impact he’s made on defense. He’s one of the best safeties in the country so that tells you how valuable he’s been on offense.”
Vaki has showcased a natural ability on offense. He possesses great instincts and has already put a couple of plays on film that wow you.
He’s got enough speed to beat a defense to the outside — though USC’s defense wasn’t exactly a teaching tape on setting the edge — and pairs that quickness with a downhill safety’s mindset. On one run down the sideline against USC, Vaki spun out of one arm tackle and then just tossed another would-be tackler off of him.
Asked if Vaki’s experience as a safety is helping him beat defenses now on the other side of it, Whittingham said it’s more about his natural ability with the ball in his hands.
“Well, he was a really good offensive player in high school, so I don’t think it’s predicated on his defensive experience. I think it’s just natural instinct and ability offensively,” Whittingham said. “He’s just got a great feel for splitting defenders and making people miss. And also he has really good speed.
“You’ve seen his top-end the last few weeks, so he just has a skillset that is really conducive to being a good offensive player. His primary skill is catching the ball — he was an outstanding receiver in high school, that was his primary position. It’s been a big plus for our offense, to say the least.”
The question now becomes whether or not Utah scales back his role on defense in order to keep him fresh.
“It seems to be trending in that direction,” Whittingham said.
They’ll manage the workload. Given all the injury concerns this team has dealt with this season, Utah won’t want to see its first real offensive answer turn into yet another problem. But Vaki’s play in recent weeks has almost mandated that Utah continue to explore what it has there.
“It’s analytically proven that the impact of offense is greater than the impact of defense. We’re going to continue to have (Vaki) be a big part of the offense,” Whittingham said. “It’ll become obvious when we get to that saturation point where we know, ‘OK, that’s enough.'”