Tom Smart, Deseret News
PITTSBURGH — After back-to-back lopsided losses at home, the Utah Utes visit Heinz Field today in search of one thing — a victory over Pittsburgh.
"We're just looking to get a win. Conference, nonconference is irrelevant at this point and time," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We just need to go out and try to get a win."
At 2-3 overall and 0-3 in Pac-12 play, there's an obvious sense of urgency in that regard. A victory, even a nonconference victory, would be welcome for a team reeling with the loss of starting quarterback Jordan Wynn and any hope of winning the Pac-12 South.
"We've dropped two ballgames in a row. That's a horrible feeling," Whittingham said. "It eats at you. So the only way to get that feeling out of your system is to get a win."
Despite the frustration, Whittingham insists that the Utes have maintained a good mentality.
"They come to work everyday and they give great effort and they concentrate," he said.
Defensive lineman Dave Kruger noted that there's still a lot of football left to play. The Pitt game brings Utah to the midway mark of the season. A ninth consecutive winning season and a bowl appearance are still salvageable.
"It's important that you never hit that panic button no matter how the season is going and how your team is doing," Kruger said. "You never want to hit that button and you always want to progress as much as you can and win as many games as you can."
Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham can relate. His first season with the Panthers has had its share of ups and downs. They're 3-3 overall. The high point was a 44-17 win over nationally ranked South Florida on Sept. 29. The low was a 34-10 setback last week at Rutgers.
Now comes another test.
"Utah is a lot better football team than their record shows. They are a very good defensive football team," Graham said. "These guys know from playing them last year that they are a very physical football team. We have to bounce back this week in a big way."
Graham added that it's all about maturing and getting ready to play a complete ballgame.
For Utah, that means the elimination of turnovers. The Utes have lost the ball 10 times over losses to Washington and Arizona State the past two weeks. Ball security is priority No. 1 as quarterback Jon Hays makes his second career start.
"We have got to do a much better job of getting that done," Whittingham said.
It remains to be seen if today's early kickoff will make that more difficult. It'll be 10 a.m. in Utah when the game starts. The Utes left for Pittsburgh Thursday after two days of early practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Whittingham doesn't think the start time will be a factor.
"What you don't like to do is sit around all day waiting for kickoff. So I don't think there's an advantage for either team or anything like that," he said. "But I think if you ask most coaches, the earlier the kickoff in the day the better because you like to get right to it rather than sitting around and waiting for it."
Utes on the air
Utah (2-3) at Pittsburgh (3-3)
Saturday, 10 a.m.
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
TV: ESPNU Radio: 700AM
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