SALT LAKE CITY — Thanks to California's surprisingly lopsided 43-17 win over UCLA, Utah won't be facing a ranked opponent Saturday at the Rose Bowl. The setback knocked the Bruins (4-2, 1-2) out of the top 25.
Even so, the Utes (2-3, 0-2) still face a difficult road ahead with games at UCLA and No. 10 Oregon State over the next two weeks.
Although Utah coach Kyle Whittingham noted there were things to build on in last Thursday's 38-28 loss to USC, he acknowledged the bottom line.
"We're 0-2 in conference and we've got our backs to the wall just like last year," Whittingham said. "It doesn't get any easier."
The Utes opened Pac-12 play with four consecutive losses in 2011 — falling to USC, Washington, Arizona State and California — before salvaging the season by reeling off four straight league wins to become bowl eligible. The clinching game was a 31-6 decision over UCLA on Nov. 12.
This year's meeting with the Bruins also finds the Utes at a crossroads of sorts.
Whittingham said there were things to build on from the USC game. He saw progress, particularly on offense, from the previous week's 37-7 setback at Arizona State.
"There's no moral victories in our program but we played like we're supposed to play," Whittingham said. "We did not do that in the Arizona State game, not even close."
The mission now, he added, is continual improvement with everything. It's just how things are in the Pac-12.
"We've just got to keep working hard and continue to recruit the right way and just keep progressing," Whittingham said. "We've just got to keep forging ahead."
WILSON'S ROLE: Even though it began with the game's only sack, Whittingham liked what he saw from the series that freshman quarterback Travis Wilson ran against USC. Wilson completed 4-of-6 passes for 49 yards to set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Kelvin York with 38 seconds remaining.
"I thought Travis came in and made the most of his series and we probably should have given him an opportunity earlier in the game," Whittingham said. "But we'll continue to try to work him in."
In his postgame remarks, Whittingham told reporters that Jon Hays is still Utah's starting quarterback. Hays completed 19-of-32 passes for 160 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and was intercepted once.
RECRUITING UPDATE: Yahoo! Sports currently ranks Utah's 2013 recruiting class as No. 7 in the Pac-12. According to UteZone.com, current commitments include: DE Myron Alava (Westminster High School, California), RB Andrew Ballin (Hoover High School, California), CB D.J. Dean (Newton High School, Texas), RB Salesi Eteaki (Servite High School, California), OL Lo Falemaka (Cottonwood High School), WR Harrison Handley (Alta High School), WR Andre Lewis (Diablo Valley Community College, California), QB Conner Manning (El Toro High School, California), LB Uaea Masina (Brighton High School), LB Filipo Mokofisi (Woods Cross High School), TE Gregory Reese (Arizona Western Community College), WR X'avier Shepherd (Lakewood High School, California), OL LeRoy Tanoai (Notre Dame High School, California), DE Sam Tevi (Trinity High School, Texas), OL De'Ondre Wesley (Diablo Valley Community College, California) and RB Marcus Williams (Durango High School, Nevada).
EXTRA POINTS: UCLA returns home for the first time since a 27-20 loss to Oregon State on Sept. 22. The Bruins split road games that followed. They defeated Colorado 42-14, but dropped a 43-17 decision at California last Saturday. Sean Sellwood is second in the nation with 47.59 yards per punt. Joe Kruger, Reggie Topps, Nate Fakahafua and Star Lotulelei are all ranked in the top 26 nationally in forced fumbles.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @DirkFacer
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company