Utah Utes football: Utah adapts to tough conference, no room for error

Published: Saturday, Oct. 6 2012 10:09 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leaves the field after losing to USC during Pac-12 football in Salt Lake City Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It's been a different world for the Utah Utes. Since joining the Pac-12, conference victories have been tough to get. They're just 4-7 in their new surroundings, including a 2-4 mark in league games at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah's inaugural campaign in the Pac-12 resulted in the program's first losing conference season since 2002. An 0-4 opening led to a 4-5 finish in 2011.

Now, in year two, the Utes face the possibility of a similar start. At 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Pac-12 play, they embark on a stretch of back-to-back road games against ranked opponents — UCLA this Saturday and Oregon State the following week.

The bar, obviously, has been raised since Utah's days in the Mountain West Conference.

During the coaching tenures of Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham, the Utes posted a 48-14 league mark. The only losses at home during the eight-year stretch came against Air Force (2007), BYU (2006), New Mexico (2003, 2005), San Diego State (2005) and TCU (2010).

Switching conferences has altered the landscape significantly for Utah. The higher degree of difficulty is accompanied by a basic recipe for success — consistency in the form of the Utes needing to play their 'A' game in each outing.

"Every single week. There's no doubt about that," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "You better be ready to play week in and week out. Because there are no weeks off."

Utah learned that painful lesson last season with a surprising 17-14 loss at home to Colorado. The setback wound up costing the Utes a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game against Oregon.

To Utah's credit, the team bounced back a few weeks later to defeat Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

Now, after back-to-back Pac-12 shortcomings against Arizona State and USC, the Utes are yearning for another rally. After Thursday's loss to the Trojans, senior running back John White voiced his optimism.

"Anything's possible. We can beat anybody in this league. It's open," said White, who is one of Utah's team captains. "I feel like we can beat anybody. We just have to have the right formula and we've got to come out there and execute."

Following the road trips to UCLA and Oregon State, the Utes return home to face California (Oct. 27) and Washington State (Nov. 3). The balance of the schedule includes away games at Washington (Nov. 10) and Colorado (Nov. 23), as well as the home finale against Arizona on Nov. 17.

Email: dirk@desnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer

U. in the Pac-12

Home (2-4)

Wins: Oregon State (2011), UCLA (2011)

Losses: Washington (2011), Arizona State (2011), Colorado (2011), USC (2012).

Away (2-3)

Wins: Arizona (2011), Washington State (2011)

Losses: USC (2011), California (2011), Arizona State (2012)

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