The team, he added, had a spirited practice and appeared to have put last month's disappointing 17-14 loss to Colorado behind them.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham had quite a busy day. He was literally here and there on Thursday.

In the morning, Whittingham joined Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson in El Paso, Texas for a Sun Bowl press conference. Hours later, Whittingham was directing the Utes' first practice in preparation for the Dec. 31 game.

"It's been a long day but it was a good trip to El Paso," Whittingham said while noting he picked up a lot of information in Texas and is confident it'll be a good experience for the Utes. "They do it right there. The Sun Bowl has been in business for 70-plus years and they know exactly what they're doing."

The El Paso Times reported that both coaches had good things to say about the matchup between the Yellow Jackets (8-4) and Utes (7-5).

"Let me tell you how excited we are to come here. We've heard nothing but good things about this game and all the hospitality that goes with it," Johnson said. "This will be a huge challenge for us. If you look at the statistics, they (the Utes) are one of the best defenses in the country."

Whittingham, the newspaper reported, was also complimentary.

"On behalf of the University of Utah and the Pac-12, we are elated to be here. I'll echo coach Johnson's comments that we've heard nothing but great things about this bowl game. One of our assistants was with Washington, and he said it was one of the best bowl experiences he had ever had," he said. "This will be a challenge for us to stop their (triple option) offense. It's the type of offense you can't expect to shut down."

After returning to Utah, Whittingham led the Utes through an afternoon practice at the Spence Eccles Fieldhouse.

"It felt great to get back out here," Whittingham said. "With the bowl game being as late as it is on the 31st, you don't want to get going too soon and I think this timed out to be just right. This is about when we started for the Sugar Bowl."

The team, he added, had a spirited practice and appeared to have put last month's disappointing 17-14 loss to Colorado behind them.

The Utes, who have been in the weight room and conditioning on a regular basis, will practice three times on the field for the next two weeks. Then they'll go Monday through Friday before taking time off for Christmas. The team will gather Dec. 26 in El Paso to begin final preparations.

"It feels good to be back at work," said wide receiver DeVonte Christopher, who noted that the downtime off the field helped some guys heal from injuries.

Running back John White IV, however, is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in the Colorado game. The junior took "mental reps" in Thursday's practice but is expected to be ready to go by the time the game rolls around.

"It was nice to get the fellas back out here again," White said. "We haven't practiced in a good couple of weeks, but we'll be ready. We'll be prepared for the game."


Twitter: @DirkFacer