AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wanted to make one thing perfectly clear after Saturday's 28-23 win over Air Force — the latest in a series of tight battles against the Falcons and their triple-option attack.
"I'm glad that they are not on our schedule," he said after what could be final football meeting between the teams. "I'm telling Chris Hill he's a dead man if he ever puts these guys on our schedule."
Barring a bowl meeting down the line, Utah's move to the Pac-12 next season will likely mean the end of a close series. The overall point differential over 27 meetings is just 24 points.
Air Force has prevailed 14 times, including a 7-6 mark in games played at the academy.
"It's been a wonderful competitive series over the years and a lot of tension every time we play them. They're very good," said Hill, who declined to comment on the difficulties of preparing the Falcons' famed triple-option attack. "I think I'd defer to Coach Whit. But I think practicing against this tough Air Force offense puts a lot of gray hairs on everybody's head."
FACING THE FROGS: It didn't take long for the Utes to turn their one-game-at-a-time focus to TCU. Saturday's meeting at Rice-Eccles Stadium is loaded with implications.
"It's going to be huge, monumental," said senior defensive end Christian Cox. "We're excited to play against TCU."
Senior receiver Jereme Brooks noted its magnitude as well.
"I know everybody in Salt Lake City is going to be hyped for this game," he said. "It's going to be a big game. Probably the biggest game in all of college football."
TURNOVERS: Utah's season-high five takeaways played an obvious key role in the game. Greg Bird, Brian Blechen and Christian Cox recovered fumbles, while Blechen and Justin Taplin-Ross intercepted passes.
"Turnover margin, without a doubt, you see a very significant difference," said Air Force coach Troy Calhoun. "To beat the eighth-ranked team in the nation, you have to be plus in turnover margin and we were not."
The Falcons had just one takeaway, an interception.
STANDINGS WATCH: The Utes could move up in the Bowl Championship Series standings when they are released Sunday evening. Same goes for the major polls. Michigan State and Missouri were knocked from the unbeaten ranks Saturday, leaving Utah, Auburn, Boise State, Oregon and TCU as the only teams in the nation without a loss.
PRAISE FOR UTAH: Calhoun had kind things to say about the Utes after the game.
"You give them every bit of credit because you can certainly see they're big, they're fast, they're powerful and a very good football team," he said. "To their credit, to be able to come in here and to win is indicative of the caliber of squad they have."
INJURY UPDATE: Wide receiver DeVonte Christopher did not make the trip because of a sore knee. Whittingham is hopeful he'll be back for the TCU game, but added that he's questionable at this time.
The status of linebacker Chad Manis and safety Brian Blechen, who suffered ankle injuries against Air Force, is uncertain until medical assessments are made Sunday.
EXTRA POINTS: The attendance was 37,211. ... Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson attened the game. ... Matt Asiata led the Utes with 95 yards rushing. Eddie Wide was second with 82. ... Jereme Brooks topped the receivers with six catches. ... Air Force has now scored in 216 straight games, the fourth-longest active streak in the country. ... The Utes went 3-for-3 in the red zone, improving to 46-of-48 with Jordan Wynn on the field.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company