Tom Smart, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time since 2002, the Utah Utes are not going bowling. The program’s run of nine consecutive bowl appearances and an equal number of winning campaigns came to a crashing halt in 2012.
The situation, for obvious reasons, isn’t sitting well with head coach Kyle Whittingham.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the season,” he said. “Going 5-7 is not what our expectations are — far from it.”
As such, Whittingham is determined to get the Utes back to “playing the level of football that we know we’re capable of.”
There are three ways to do so, he explained, noting that improvement can come by addition, by deletion or by making the guys they already have in the program better.
“And we’re looking hard at all three,” Whittingham said.
It’s all part of the process as Utah adapts to life in the Pac-12. Whittingham has repeatedly said that the bar has been raised in every area with the conference switch. The Utes, he added, need to keep working hard, recruit well and continue to improve across the board.
Even so, some things haven’t changed following Whittingham’s first losing season at the helm. He’s still taking a close look at everything in the program from A to Z.
“You do that every year,” Whittingham said. “So it’s not like all of a sudden we’re 5-7 so we’re going to analyze everything. We do that every single year.”
The overall evaluation takes about a month to complete. In general terms, however, Whittingham acknowledged that his overriding analysis is that the program has simply got to continue to upgrade everything it does.
“Our goal is to try to win the (Pac-12) South,” Whittingham said. “That’s going to be our goal year in and year out.”
In 2012, the quest to do so took an early hit when starting quarterback Jordan Wynn was sidelined with a shoulder injury in the second week of the season, a 27-20 non-conference overtime loss at Utah State.
“It had an impact. It definitely had an impact,” Whittingham said. “Losing Jordan was certainly a low point for our season, particularly when it was career ending.”
Senior Jon Hays and true freshman Travis Wilson wound up stepping in for Wynn, but the offense never developed much of a rhythm. Utah finished the season ranked 11th in the Pac-12 with 324.4 yards of total offense per game.
The shortcomings, along with injuries on both sides of the ball, contributed to an overall lack of success that included a lack of takeaways on defense and miscues on special teams. Utah lost four of six conference games at one point, putting the Utes in a hole that proved to be too tough to climb out of.
“That was a stretch of the grind that is the Pac-12,” Whittingham said. “That’s going to be every year. Every year you’re going to have stretches like that.”
Utah opened league play with consecutive losses to Arizona State (37-7), USC (38-28), UCLA (21-14) and Oregon State (21-7). Wins over California (49-27) and Washington State (49-6) followed before setbacks to Washington (34-15) and Arizona (34-24) assured the Utes of a losing season. They capped things off with a 42-35 victory at Colorado.
“The positive is our team continued to complete all season long. There was never any quit in these guys,” Whittingham said. “They fought to the bitter end. But we all realize that our results have to be better.”
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