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Utah Utes football notebook: Stanford coming to town, Utah focusing on improving third-down success

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 7:12 a.m. MDT

Utah Utes wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald (83) catches a pass against UCLA Bruins safety Brandon Sermons (25) in Salt Lake City  Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013.  The touchdown was not allowed. UCLA won 34-27.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes wide receiver Sean Fitzgerald (83) catches a pass against UCLA Bruins safety Brandon Sermons (25) in Salt Lake City Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. The touchdown was not allowed. UCLA won 34-27. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — After converting on just 3 of 27 third-down situations over their past two games, the Utah Utes are spending a lot of time working on improving the numbers.

There’s a sense of urgency with fifth-ranked Stanford coming to town Saturday.

“We spent probably three times the amount of periods this week than we usually do on third downs,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “So we’ll see if that translates. But we have definitely paid attention to it and tried to get it solved.”

It’s that important to the Utes.

“You’re not going to win a lot of games going 3 for 27 and we understand that,” Whittingham added. “And we’ve got to get it corrected.”

Co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson noted the importance of situational football and knowing what needs to be done.

“You’ve just got to concentrate and execute on the down and distance and understand what you need,” Johnson said.

Both coaches emphasized the significance of third-down conversions, even if the Utes were able to defeat BYU with just 1-of-14 success.

“It’s a very important stat,” Whittingham explained. “It’s not as important as the turnover margin, but it’s in the top three or four most important statistical categories that determine whether you are going to win or lose.”

Johnson also puts a lot of stock in the third-down numbers.

“It’s definitely relevant,” he said. “It’s key to staying on the field, extending drives and giving yourself more opportunities to score. So it’s extremely important.”

PROGRAM PRIDE: Stanford coach David Shaw opened his remarks on this week’s Pac-12 teleconference by responding to criticism from Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who alleged that the Cardinal faked injuries to slow down last Saturday’s game.

“I must say that we don’t fake injuries. We never have and we never will. I don’t condone it. We don’t teach it. I don’t allow it,” Shaw said. “And I don’t care what Steve Sarkisian thinks that he saw. We’ve never done it. We didn’t do it against Oregon, so why in the world would we do it against Washington?”

Shaw also addressed Sarkisian's comment of, “I guess that’s how we play at Stanford,” that followed the Cardinal’s 31-28 win over the Huskies.

After reeling off things like their low 5 1/2 penalties per game; three BCS appearances; Pac-12, Orange and Rose bowl championships; and 100 percent graduation rate, Shaw added that he believes Stanford does things the right way and is backed by everybody at the university.

“This is one of the most respected programs in the country and I’m not going to put that on the line just to beat Washington,” Shaw said. “We play by the rules. We do it with integrity. Our coaches and players all believe in that.”

EXTRA POINTS: The Pac-12 Networks will feature Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly and his daughter’s battle with cancer in a story before Saturday’s broadcast of the game. ... Former Ute Jamal Anderson will join Mike Yam, Rick Neuheisel and Curtis Conway on the Pac-12 (Networks) Football Pregame Show on Saturday at 3 p.m. ... The Utes are 3-0 this season when they score first.

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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