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Utah football: Utes still have hope, but must beat OSU to start it

Published: Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 1:11 a.m. MDT

Utah quarterback Jon Hays (9) gets off a pass under pressure by Pittsburgh defensive tackle Myles Caragein (94) in the second quarter of the NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, in Pittsburgh.

Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Perhaps someone should come up with a new slogan for the Utah Utes. A variation, if you will, of the line "today is the first day of the rest of your life."

At 3-4 overall and 0-4 in Pac-12 play, the Utes face Oregon State (2-5, 2-2) at a crossroads. A fitting mantra might be something like "today is the first day of the rest of your season."

There's no room for error if Utah wants to avoid its first losing conference campaign since 2002. A setback Saturday would also mark the first time since 1986 that the Utes opened their league slate with five consecutive losses. They're in a precarious spot, obviously.

All hope, however, is not lost.

"We've still got five games and obviously 3-4 is not what we want, but if we finish 5-0 that's the best we can do right now," said safety Brian Blechen. "So that's what we're aiming to do."

The team has been working hard, he added, and is eager for the opportunity to get on track against the Beavers.

Blechen is confident everyone will be juiced and flying around at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"There's no lack of enthusiasm, no lack of work ethic," confirmed Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "Guys are out here working hard, enjoying what they're doing."

Question is, are the Utes ready to turn things around and secure their first Pac-12 victory?

"Boy I hope so," Whittingham said. "We're frustrated and disappointed, obviously, with the first seven games of the season but we've got a lot of football left."

The season-ending stretch begins with Oregon State and includes road dates at Arizona (Nov. 5) and Washington State (Nov. 19), as well as home games against UCLA (Nov. 12) and Colorado (Nov. 25).

The next game, though, is the only one Whittingham and his team are concerned about.

And the biggest focus is ball security. Whittingham said it's first and foremost the issue that needs to be corrected.

Turnovers have been a decisive factor in how Utah's season has gone. The Utes have been intercepted nine times, thus far, and have lost eight fumbles. Starting quarterback Jon Hays, who replaced the injured Jordan Wynn earlier this month, has struggled to get the offense moving.

Taking care of the football has been the biggest problem. It's made the challenging task of competing in the Pac-12 even more difficult.

"The main nemesis for us this year has been our own issues, self-inflicted," said Whittingham, who is also dealing with season-ending injuries to five contributors.

The Utes, though, aren't using excuses.

"Even though we're facing a lot of adversity right now and things aren't going the way we want them to go, I swear Monday everybody came back with even more fire and attitude to get ready this week," Blechen said.

Although there's a lot riding on the outcome, Whittingham is determined to keep things in perspective.

"There are no must-wins unless you say the world is going to end if you don't win. I guess that would be a must-win," Whittingham said. "But otherwise you just go out and try to play to the best of your ability."

Utes on the air

Oregon State (2-5, 2-2)

at Utah (3-4, 0-4)

Saturday, 5 p.m.

TV: KJZZ

Radio: 700 AM

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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