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Utah Utes football: Utes' conference season going like a root canal

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 8:06 p.m. MDT

California's Michael Calvin, right, runs with the ball as Utah's Eric Rowe reaches for him and the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011, in San Francisco.

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Utah's inaugural season in the Pac-12 is going about as well as a root canal, a tax audit and a kick in the shin — combined.

The Utes are off to an 0-4 start in conference play with losses to USC, Washington, Arizona State and now California. They've been outscored 123-52 in the setbacks and have fallen woefully short in total offense (1,610-1,139 yards) and first downs (88-66).

Turnovers have also been a problem. There's been a dozen of them.

One thing is clear: Utah isn't in the Mountain West Conference anymore. Things are much different in the Pac-12.

The Utes, however, insist they aren't suffering from culture shock.

"No. But there's a heckuva lot better athletes and level of play. There's no doubt about that and that's what we expected," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after Saturday's 34-10 loss to Cal at AT&T Park. "We're not sitting here surprised and thinking we didn't expect this. We expected this to be a very challenging, very difficult conference and it's proven to be exactly that."

And despite the tough start — Utah and fellow Pac-12 newcomer Colorado are the lone teams without a conference win to this points — the Utes aren't about to throw in the towel as they prepare to host Oregon State on Saturday.

"We've just got to keep working and keep finding ways to try to win," Whittingham said while that Utah is 3-4 overall. "There's still a lot of football left. There's still five games left. That benchmark of trying to get to six to get the bowl qualifying status is still very much a reality."

As such, there's a focused determination to fix the issues that are plaguing the program.

"We've just got to keep working," Whittingham said. "This is a good league. It's competitive and we've got to keep fighting our tails off to compete."

BOTTOM LINE: Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei acknowledged there was obvious disappointment in the locker room after the Cal game.

"We felt like we could have beat this team. But we came out and were just outplayed," Lotulelei said. "They wanted it more than us and that's how the game turned out."

Linebacker Chaz Walker acknowledged the situation left the Utes frustrated.

"We know we've got a lot more talent than we're showing," he said. "We've got to come out and show it to everybody on Saturdays."

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes are off to their worst conference start since 2002 . . . Despite missing the last two games with an ankle injury, DeVonte Christopher continues to lead the team with 23 receptions this season. Whittingham is hopeful Christopher will be able to return to action this week . . . Sean Sellwood had a productive outing against Cal. The junior averaged 45.5 yards on six punts and placed two inside the 20. He also completed a pass to Lotulelei on a fake punt . . . Upon further review, Cal officials have adjusted some of Saturday's stats. Utah safety Brian Blechen is now credited with being the game's top tackler with 10 stops.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

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