SALT LAKE CITY — There's a new mantra up on the hill, something the Utah Utes have embraced since a 34-10 loss to California on Oct. 22.
"Play with passion, emotion and energy," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.
Since their poor showing in San Francisco against Cal., the Utes have turned things around — winning three straight games and outscoring the opposition by a 92-35 margin.
A key to success, Whittingham emphasized, has been playing with that increased intensity.
"First of all, there was never, ever a shortage of work ethic in practice and film study. That stuff has always been there," he noted. "We just had that one week where we came out flat. We had no passion, no emotion."
That, however, is a thing of the past after a meeting between Whittingham and the upperclassmen following the Cal trip.
"I think everybody just got a sense that we've got to come ready to play week-in and week-out. This is a new conference. In the Mountain West it was a lot easier to where we can be a little off sometimes and still win a game," said senior cornerback Conroy Black. "So I think there's a sense of urgency there. Every week we've got to come in and play."
There are no weeks off, he continued, on the field, in the weight room or in the film room.
"So I think it just hit home after that meeting," Black said. "And I think everybody's been taking advantage of that."
Consecutive victories over Oregon State (27-8), Arizona (34-21) and UCLA (31-6) followed and made the Utes (6-4, 3-4) bowl eligible entering this Saturday's game at Washington State. They'll close out the regular season the following Friday at home against Colorado.
Although Utah is still mathematically in the race to represent the South Division in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the team remains focused on the task at hand.
"I'm not going to start making any calls or predictions yet, but things seem to be going our own way," acknowledged senior right tackle Tony Bergstrom. "But obviously there's Washington State there. All we can do is what we can take care of and they're the next goal in our path."
Whittingham isn't expecting any dropoff in the Utes' mantra.
"Our guys love football. They're enjoying themselves. They have a great attitude. They enjoy practicing," he said. "Football is such an emotional game and you've got to have that passion and energy to survive."
Utah's resolve to do so is solid, especially after what Bergstrom calls "one of those awakening moments" like the lopsided loss to the Golden Bears. The Utes, he continued, realized that something had to change.
"This isn't how we want it to be. So we kind of sat down and re-assessed where we were and what we were doing," Bergstrom said. "(We) kind of realized that we weren't bought in as much as we said we were and recommitted ourselves to buying in and doing whatever it took to win. I think that's been the difference these last couple of weeks, is getting everybody to buy into that. I mean, the results have been there."
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Utah (6-4, 3-4) at Washington St. (4-6, 2-5)
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