Utes look for answers after inexplicable loss

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 25 2007 12:35 a.m. MDT

Aside from not getting a lot of sleep, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham insists he isn't feeling any pressure over his team's disappointing 1-3 start.

"Pressure is being trapped in a mine, trying to find miners and being based in Iraq," Whittingham said. "That's pressure. This is football."

After following an impressive 44-6 upset of UCLA with a surprising 27-0 loss at UNLV, the Utes have Whittingham feeling something different.

"Frustrated is an apt description," he said. "It's just hard to figure."

In the span of one week, Utah went from one extreme to another. It's left Whittingham a bit baffled.

Despite exhibiting the same work ethic, intensity and format in practice Monday through Friday, the Utes had dramatically different results on Saturday.

"That tells me it's not a physical thing," Whittingham said. "It's something going on mentally that we've got to get corrected."

The sooner, the better.

Utah's homecoming game is Saturday against Utah State.

"I wish I could explain it," senior safety Steve Tate said. "If I could we wouldn't be in this situation. If I knew the answers we wouldn't be. It's tough to keep steady and that's what we've got to do. These situations are what makes leaders and I think the leaders have got to step up and just let this team know that we've got to keep steady."

Tate and the other captains are determined to get things turned around.

"We've been here before," quarterback Brian Johnson said. "We've been at the point where everybody has written us off before. No one thought we had a chance against the Bruins and we came out and played well. We've got to find a way to get this team to ignite — find something that will spark us, get us going and finally get a good streak going here."

Whittingham, who met with the juniors and seniors as a group Monday, vows to get it figured out. For whatever reason, he noted, the Utes weren't prepared last Saturday.

"That responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders," Whittingham said. "It's my job to get everyone ready to play and that's what we're doing this week."

Questions, however, still abound.

"There are 119 Division I coaches that want to find ways to get their players to execute at a high level every week," Whittingham said. "I don't know why we played at a high level (against UCLA) and then seven days later play so ineptly."

The coaching staff, he explained, has been pouring over the tape in search of an explanation.

"What's the old saying? 'We've discovered the enemy and the enemy is ourself,'" Whittingham said. "We've got to get our lack of production, a lack of effectiveness solved."

Besides being held scoreless for the first time since the opening game of 1993, Utah missed 17 tackles in Vegas.

On the flight home after the game, Whittingham and his staff were at a loss of words.

"It was like: What just happened?" he said.

JOHNSON WILL START: Whittingham confirmed that Johnson has reclaimed the starting quarterback job.

"Brian Johnson is going to be our QB. No question. It's not even a debate," Whittingham said. "If he's ready to go, then he's going to go."

Johnson suffered a shoulder separation in the season opener at Oregon State and did not play again until the second half of the loss at UNLV.

"This week," Whittingham stated. "He's our guy."

INJURY UPDATE: Safety Robert Johnson will miss at least three weeks after dislocating his shoulder early in the UNLV game.

And that's not all that's ailing the injury plagued Utes.

Linebacker Joe Jiannoni (ankle) and defensive lineman Koa Misi (open-wound finger dislocation) are doubtful for Saturday's homecoming game against Utah State. Tight end Colt Sampson (MCL sprain), offensive lineman Corey Seiuli (ankle) and defensive tackle Gabe Long (MCL sprain) are questionable.

Stevenson Sylvester (broken hand) and cornerback Brice McCain (thigh contusion) are expected to play.

On the air

Utah State (0-4, 0-1) at Utah (1-3, 0-2)

Saturday, 1 p.m.

Rice-Eccles Stadium

Radio: 700AM

TV: The mtn.


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com

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