Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Until joining the Pac-12, the Utah Utes enjoyed perfection after bye weeks under head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Before last season's 31-14 loss to Washington, they were 6-0 in such games — outscoring the opposition by a whopping 230-89 margin. Victories include two over both Colorado State and Wyoming, as well as single wins over Iowa State and New Mexico.
Extending the streak to seven, though, was stymied by the loss of starting quarterback Jordan Wynn to a shoulder injury midway through the game. Washington pulled away handily after holding a 10-7 halftime lead.
Now, the Utes face an even more difficult challenge after a bye week. On Thursday, they'll play host to preseason Pac-12 favorite USC. The 13th-ranked Trojans (3-1, 1-1) present a big test for a Utah team coming off a 37-7 loss at Arizona State on Sept. 22.
It remains to be seen if the Utes' run of success after bye weeks will be a factor. Whittingham insists there's no secret to it.
"We've been doing the same thing for a lot of years after byes. I don't think we do it dramatically different than anyone else," he said while noting that in offseason discussions with other coaches, it doesn't appear that Utah's approach is unique.
Something, however, is working. The proof is in the 6-1 record under Whittingham.
"It speaks for itself," said quarterback Jon Hays. "He definitely knows what he's doing."
Although the Utes took two days off last week, Hays explained that the players used the break to take extra steps in film preparation and study. A couple of physical practices followed in the days after.
"The coaches do a great job here of just keeping everyone on track," said Hays, who added that the team had a chance to get their bodies recovered and stronger during the break.
Despite all the positives, Whittingham can't really pinpoint why Utah's bye-week model has been so successful over time.
"The players have worked hard. We take bye weeks — not as a vacation time — but we work hard on the field," Whittingham said. "We put the pads on but a lot of teams do the same thing. So I can't tell you if that's just a product of good fortune or if it's something we're doing specifically. I couldn't tell you."
By comparison, USC's Lane Kiffin is 1-1 following bye weeks as head coach of the Trojans. They lost to top-ranked Oregon (53-32) in 2010 and defeated California (30-9) last season.
Pac-12 home opener
No. 13 USC (3-1, 1-1) at Utah (2-2, 0-1)
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Radio: ESPN 700
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