SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Because of a multitude of injuries to Utah’s secondary before last year’s Rose Bowl against Ohio State, running back Micah Bernard had about two weeks to learn how to play defensive back, something he hadn’t done since high school.

Not only did Bernard have to learn a new position, but then he had to go out and defend one of the best receiving corps in the nation. Predictably, Jaxson Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison Jr. torched Bernard and the entire Utah secondary in a 48-45 victory. But just being out there showed his commitment to this team.

“It was a good experience,” Bernard said. “Anytime you get to go play the other side of the ball at a high level, it changes your whole outlook on football itself. So being able to go against those guys made me better mentally and physically. I mean, I can go out there and play corner if they need me again. But it’s kind of nice to know that I’m staying on offense.”

“He was a team guy and accepted the role,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “You talk about baptism by fire, that was probably the best receiving group in the country. But credit him for taking on the challenge and being willing to help the team in any capacity he could.”

Bernard had an impact on offense in the game as well, coming down with an incredible touchdown catch for Utah’s first score.

“I made some other great catches back in high school, but those didn’t really matter,” Bernard said. “But on a big stage like that, I think that was one of the biggest catches I’ve had.”

For next week’s Rose Bowl against Penn State, Bernard only has to worry about playing running back. After Tavion Thomas left the team, Bernard has teamed up with Ja’Quendin Jackson and Jaylon Glover to help the Utes re-establish a dominant run game.

“Anyone of us can have a breakout game,” Bernard said. “Just today at practice, we’ve got guys telling each other what we need to do. You’re not sprinting, you’re not running, did you see that hole, what are we looking at. So we’re all just communicating with each other and trying to make each other better.”

This season, Bernard has rushed for 474 yards and four touchdowns, while catching 31 passes for 306 yards and one touchdown.

Growing up in Long Beach, about 30 miles away from Pasadena, Bernard is going to have plenty of family and friends at the game on Monday.

“It means a lot,” he said about playing near his hometown. “My family gets to come out there and see me at my natural position, at running back instead of DB. So it will be nice for them to watch me do that. I have a lot of friends coming to the game, everybody.”

Utah and Penn State will play in the Rose Bowl Monday, January 2nd at 3:00 p.m.