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Pac-12 preview: Utah Utes eager to go bowling again

Published: Saturday, Aug. 3 2013 11:30 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leaves the field after losing to USC during Pac-12 football  in Salt Lake City  Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham leaves the field after losing to USC during Pac-12 football in Salt Lake City Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

CULVER CITY, Calif. — It didn’t take long for Utah coach Kyle Whittingham to address the issue. Shortly after taking the podium at Pac-12 media day, he acknowledged just how the Utes felt after going 5-7 last year and missing out on a bowl game for the first time in nearly a decade.

“It was foreign to us and we didn’t like it at all,” Whittingham said. “I got a bunch of texts during the bowl season (about) how disappointed they were not being there and how they didn’t want that to happen again.”

Hopefully, he added, the Utes will get their deficiencies corrected. He specifically pinpointed the throw game, red zone defense and a lack of takeaways as primary areas of concern.

“In a nutshell, that was our biggest issues, but we are excited this season. We feel we have improved ourselves in a lot of areas,” said Whittingham, who then directed his remarks to the bigger picture of joining the BCS conference in 2011.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham encourages his team after USC misses a field goal during Pac-12 football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham encourages his team after USC misses a field goal during Pac-12 football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

“Going to the Pac-12, we knew it was going to be a transition and a process and a work in progress, I guess you could say,” he said. “I feel we’ve had two outstanding recruiting classes back to back. Hopefully, that will start to manifest this year. I’ve got to tell you, having the Pac-12 logo on our sleeves and the BCS conference affiliation, the vast majority of the guys we signed the last two classes we would not have had a chance at getting had we not been in that situation.”

Whittingham added that everything has been ramped up. He noted that the Utes had just moved into their new football facility and a lot of good things are happening.

“We’re excited to get the season underway and get on track and win ballgames like we’re used to,” Whittingham said.

OFFENSE: The hiring of co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson is expected to infuse some energy and a faster pace to an offensive scheme that struggled last season. Sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson saw action in all 12 games in 2012 and has talented targets like wide receivers Kenneth Scott and Dres Anderson, as well as tight end Jake Murphy, around him. Left tackle Jeremiah Poutasi is an All-America candidate.

DEFENSE: Graduation and an early departure to the NFL leave the Utes with a lack of experience at cornerback and defensive tackle. Seniors Trevor Reilly and Brian Blechen are skilled at multiple positions and could be called upon to use their versatility. So, too, could sophomore Jason Whittingham. Juniors Nate Orchard (formerly Fakahafua) and Eric Rowe are proven talents at defensive end and safety, respectively.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Utes are looking for a few good men. Graduation took its toll with the loss of the team’s primary kicker, punter and return specialist. The latter being All-American Reggie Dunn.

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes open camp Monday with heavy hearts following last week’s death of incoming freshman Gaius Vaenuku in a rollover accident in New Mexico. His funeral was Saturday. ... All of Utah’s nonconference opponents this season will be in-state foes — Utah State, Weber State and BYU. ... The Utes don’t leave the state for a game until they face Arizona Oct. 19 in Tucson.

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