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Utes football: Utah players carry momentum into Pac-12 play, league opener vs. Oregon State

Published: Sunday, Sept. 8 2013 8:00 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes running back Karl Williams (38) celebrates his touchdown with Utah Utes wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald (83) in Salt Lake City Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Armed with wins over Utah State and Weber State, Utah is off to its first 2-0 start since 2010. More importantly, it’s the first time the Utes enter Pac-12 play with a little momentum — as in a 2-0 nonconference record — as a member of the league.

It may be a big deal considering Utah has lost its first four conference games in each of the past two seasons. The Utes can put an end to that trend Saturday at home against Oregon State. The Beavers (1-1) visit Rice-Eccles Stadium after a 49-46 upset loss to Eastern Washington of the Big Sky Conference and a 33-14 win over Hawaii.

The contest is the first of three straight Pac-12 home games for Utah. After a trip to BYU and a bye that follows, the Utes play host to UCLA on Oct. 3 and Stanford on Oct. 12. Their first conference road dates are Oct. 12 at Arizona and Oct. 19 at USC.

“It’s great to get off to a 2-0 start,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who then noted the importance of capitalizing on the favorable early home schedule when it comes to Pac-12 play. “It’s important that we take advantage of that because down the road there’s going to be a bunch of away games.

“But going into Oregon State 2-0 was exactly where we hoped to be and really where we expected to be,” he added.

Now that they’ve arrived there, the Utes are determined to make the most of it.

“We’ve got to make sure we put together a good four quarters against Oregon State,” said wide receiver Dres Anderson. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of finally getting into Pac-12 play.”

In 2011, Utah opened its conference slate with losses to USC, Washington, Arizona State and California. The Utes responded with wins over Oregon State, Arizona, UCLA and Washington State before losing out on an opportunity to participate in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game with a 17-14 upset loss at home to last-place Colorado.

Last season, Utah began conference play with setbacks to Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Oregon State — putting the Utes in an 0-4 hole for the second consecutive year.

That time, however, it proved insurmountable. Utah wound up with a 3-6 Pac-12 mark and missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2002.

“It’s key that we get off to a great start in conference play,” said co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. “Everybody knows how competitive and how tough this conference is and we’re fortunate enough to get five conference home games this year. So we’ve got to take advantage of it.”

As such, Johnson vowed that the Utes will prepare their “butts off and be ready to play” against Oregon State. He said Saturday’s 70-7 win over Weber State set a good tone.

“We played well today. We wanted to come out and fix some of our deficiencies from last week — clean some stuff up,” Johnson explained. “We challenged the guys to go out and play a nice clean game and they did that. So now conference play starts and we’ve got to get off to a great start.”

Defensive end Trevor Reilly noted that the lopsided win over the Wildcats, coupled with the season-opening victory over the Aggies, was huge.

“This is good for our confidence,” he said. “We got our twos a lot of reps, so we should be ready to go.”

Quarterback Travis Wilson, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in one half of action against Weber State, also believes the first two games have been beneficial for the challenges ahead.

“I think it definitely gives us motivation for next week, he said.

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