Utah football: Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledges 2013 was a frustrating year for Utes

Published: Monday, Dec. 9 2013 6:00 p.m. MST

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham talks to the ref as the University of Utah plays USC in PAC 12 football Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a frustrating year up on the hill. A second consecutive 5-7 season isn’t sitting well with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and the Utes. Adding to their aggravation was this year’s Pac-12 championship game final between Stanford and Arizona State. They defeated the victorious Cardinal and dropped a one-point decision to the Sun Devils during the regular season.

“That’s how close we were, but close doesn’t count. There’s nobody in this building that doesn’t understand that. We all understand that,” Whittingham said. “So we’re all working hard to try to get over that hump. That’s our objective.”

Although the Utes went just 2-7 in conference play — their worst mark since joining the league in 2011 — three of the setbacks were by a touchdown or less. Two other losses came without starting quarterback Travis Wilson, who was sidelined when an intracranial artery injury was discovered during concussion tests following the ASU game.

Other injuries throughout the season also had an impact.

“It’s been tough, but we’re just going to keep working and searching for answers,” Whittingham said. “That’s all you can do — is keep trying to improve.”

In that regard, Whittingham believes progress is being made.

“The record doesn’t say, that but I believe we’re quite a bit better than we were last year,” he explained. “But, again, the only thing that really counts is the record and that’s all people look at. That’s how this business is. We understand that. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Utah’s 2013 record includes nonconference wins over Utah State (30-26), Weber State (70-7) and BYU (20-13), as well as Pac-12 victories over Stanford (27-21) and Colorado (24-17). Losses came to Oregon State (51-48 in overtime), UCLA (34-27), Arizona (35-24), USC (19-3), Arizona State (20-19), Oregon (44-21) and Washington State (49-37).

At one point, the Utes dropped five consecutive games — losing bowl eligibility in the process.

Whittingham said the main areas of deficiency have been identified and will be addressed heavily in this year’s recruiting class, which will be geared toward receivers and the secondary. Getting more speed on the perimeter is the priority.

“In evaluating the season as a whole that’s the thing that needs to happen,” said Whittingham, who added that improvement comes in increments — not overnight. “So we need to have this group make us better. That’s really the bottom line.”

As such, Whittingham noted that all efforts are focused on recruiting right now and making sure that evaluations are done properly to get the right guys into the program.

The newcomers will blend into a foundation already in place.

“There was a lot of positives this year,” Whittingham said. “So I’m not going to say we didn’t make some progress.”

The Utes tied for the national lead in total sacks with 39 and placed senior defensive end Trevor Reilly and sophomore punter Tom Hackett on the Pac-12’s all-conference first team. Senior defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi was a second-team selection.

Five others (wide receiver Dres Anderson, center Vyncent Jones, cornerback Keith McGill, kicker Andy Phillips and linebacker Jason Whittingham) earned honorable mention recognition.

Not being bowl eligible for the second straight year, though, has put a damper on things.

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