Utah Utes football: Team won 10 games for 6th time, but season marred by poor finish
Smithson earned All-America status as a punt returner, making spectacular plays that top Utah's highlight reel. Opponents began to make adjustments, however, limiting opportunities later in the season.
Utah's kickoff coverage remained consistent. Whittingham said it was "outstanding."
The same, however, could not be said for the punt game.
Whittingham was especially displeased with several blocks the Utes surrendered and called it "disappointing" and a "big negative."
On the positive side, at least until the bowl game, was kicker Joe Phillips. Whittingham said the senior was instrumental in two great seasons.
The Utes went 7-1 in their final season in the Mountain West Conference. They topped everyone but national power and Rose-Bowl winning TCU.
While the lopsided November loss highlighted how Utah's 2010 schedule (which included non-conference foes Pittsburgh, San Jose State, Iowa State and Notre Dame) went from weak to strong as the season progressed, the 2011 slate has a more steady look to it. That's what life in the Pac-12 will do for the Utes. They'll face USC, California, Arizona and Washington State on the road in conference play. Home games include Washington, Arizona State, Oregon State, UCLA and Colorado,
"Everybody is excited for the challenge. The bar is raised, as I've said over and over again, it's going to be very difficult," Whittingham said. "We are transitioning into a conference that plays good football and we've got a challenge in front of us. There's no question."
Utah's non-conference schedule also includes some tests. Besides the season opener at home against Montana State, the Utes will hit the road for games at BYU and Pittsburgh.
Last season at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Utah had close contests with both teams — defeating the Cougars 17-16 and outlasting the Panthers 27-24 in overtime.
Record: 10-3 overall (7-1 in Mountain West Conference)
Postseason: Lost to Boise State, 2-3 in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas.
Passing: Jordan Wynn (186-299, 2,334 yards, 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions)
Receiving yards: DeVonte Christopher (39 catches, 660 yards, 6 touchdowns)
Rushing: Eddie Wide (149 rushes, 717 yards, 11 touchdowns)
Sacks: Lamar Chapman (6.5)
Interceptions: Brian Blechen (4)
Tackles: Chaz Walker (113)
Sept. 2 UTAH 27, Pittsburgh 24 (OT)
Sept. 11 UTAH 38, UNLV 10
Sept. 18 UTAH 56, New Mexico 14
Sept. 25 UTAH 56, San Jose State 3
Oct. 9 UTAH 68, Iowa State 27
Oct. 16 UTAH 30, Wyoming 6
Oct. 23 UTAH 59, Colorado State 6
Oct. 30 UTAH 28, Air Force 23
Nov. 6 TCU 47, UTAH 7
Nov. 13 Notre Dame 28, UTAH 3
Nov. 20 UTAH 38, San Diego State 34
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