SALT LAKE CITY — Despite the challenges, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham made it clear: “There’s nowhere else we’d rather be than right here in the Pac-12 and competing and trying to get better.”
The next task is a tall one. Fifth-ranked Stanford brings the nation’s second-longest active winning streak to Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday. The Cardinal have won 13 consecutive games.
Utah, meanwhile, counters with a three-game losing streak to Pac-12 opponents at home. Since joining the conference in 2011, the Utes are a paltry 4-7 in Salt Lake City against league foes.
The lack of success at home — compounded by narrow losses to Oregon State and UCLA this season — has the program off to an 0-2 start in Pac-12 play for the third consecutive year. The previous two campaigns opened with four straight losses.
At 3-2 overall, Utah is also fighting to maintain a winning record before embarking on road games to Arizona and USC over the last two Saturdays of October.
“To have the No. 5 team come in, this is going to be a very big win for us that will give us momentum to go into the two road games,” said defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi. “So for us, it’s just to key in and everyone has to do their job. (Stanford) is a very technique-sound team. They don’t do other people’s jobs. They do their own and for us it’s just to be more physical and get the ‘W.’”
The Cardinal, he noted, are very physical up front and very balanced.
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us,” Palepoi said. “But we’re looking forward to it.”
The Utes, though, haven’t beaten a team ranked in the top 10 at home since 1973.
“We have a really big opportunity. I think Stanford is really a great team,” said Utah quarterback Travis Wilson. “They do a lot of things really well, but we definitely have a good opportunity to show what we have, too.”
Although very impressed with what Stanford is doing, Whittingham is also looking forward to the challenge. He thinks the Utes match up well in the trenches.
“In my estimation they are the most physical team in the Pac-12,” he said. “But to our benefit — I guess you could say somewhat — we feel like we’re pretty good at the line of scrimmage as well on both sides of the ball. So we’ll see how we match up with them.”
It’s just the way things are in the Pac-12.
“Every game in this league is tough. There’s no question about it,” said Utah co-offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. “There’s no gimmes on the schedule.”
That’s proved to be the case on Utah’s home turf, where seven Pac-12 teams (Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, UCLA, USC and Washington) have won conference games over the past 2 1/12 seasons.
“It’s definitely a little bit frustrating, for sure. But we’ve got a great opportunity this week — a top 5 team in the country coming to our place and we’ve got a chance to make a huge statement,” Johnson said. “So we’re excited and we’ll be ready to play.”
After coming close against Oregon State and UCLA, Utah is determined to close things out from now on — especially at home.
“We’ve got to find a way to finish them at the end and find a way to win them. That’s really the bottom line,” Johnson continued. “We’ve got a great atmosphere and a great environment, and we’ve just got to close the deal.”
EXTRA POINTS: Stanford leads the all-time series over Utah, 3-2. Aside from a neutral site game in Berkeley, Calif., in 1924, visiting teams have won all four meetings. ... The Utes defeated the Cardinal, 17-10 in the most recent game — 1996 at Stanford. ... Whittingham is 74-34 as Utah’s head coach. Stanford’s David Shaw is 28-4.
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