Utah Utes football: U. now focusing on thick of Pac-12 season

Published: Sunday, Sept. 25 2011 9:26 p.m. MDT

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham prepares to play USC at the Los Angeles Coliseum Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's lone bye week of the season is now in the rear-view mirror. Now comes a challenging road ahead, nine straight games without a break — beginning with back-to-back Pac-12 clashes at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The Utes host Washington Saturday and Arizona State next week.

"It's huge," said left tackle John Cullen. "It's definitely getting into the thick of the Pac-12 Conference, knowing if we take care of business some special things can come this season."

With the exception of an Oct. 15 date at Pittsburgh, the remainder of Utah's games are conference tilts. A berth in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game weighs in the balance.

The Utes, though, are determined not to look too far ahead. As usual, they're taking the "one game at a time" approach.

"Definitely, definitely," Cullen said. "Especially this year."

As such, Utah's focus is on Washington.

Before hitting the recruiting trail last week, head coach Kyle Whittingham offered an early scouting report on the Huskies. He called them a typical Pac-12 team — athletic and physical up front.

Washington is off to a 3-1 start for the first time since 2006. In Saturday's 31-23 victory over California, quarterback Keith Price completed 19-of-25 passes for 292 yards and three touchdowns. Running back Chris Polk netted 60 yards and a touchdown. On defense, former Judge Memorial linebacker Cort Dennison helped the Huskies hold off the Bears down the stretch and limit them to just three points in the second half. The senior finished with a team-high 11 tackles.

"They'll get after you on defense," Whittingham said.

Washington's offense, he noted, has an athletic quarterback in Price and a great back in Polk. A physical line leads the attack.

"We've got to be ready to play," Whittingham added while noting that every conference game is critical. "We've got to be ready for the grind because it's going to hit us (this) week and we've got to be up to the task."

After hosting Washington and Arizona State, Utah travels to Pittsburgh and California. The Utes close out the regular season with home games against Oregon State (Oct. 29), UCLA (Nov. 12) and Colorado (Nov. 25), and road dates at Arizona (Nov. 5) and Washington State (Nov. 19).

EXTRA POINTS: Utah is 6-0 after regular-season byes under Whittingham... The Utes are 0-6 against the Huskies and have never faced them in Salt Lake City . . . Besides being Utah's first Pac-12 home game, it's also homecoming up on the hill.

Utes Pac-12 home opener on the air

Washington (3-1, 1-0) at Utah (2-1, 0-1)

Saturday, 5 p.m.

TV: FSN

Radio: 700AM

Email: dirk@desnews.com. Twitter: @DirkFacer

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