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Utah football: Utes aim to take care of the ball on road trip to Arizona

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 4:51 a.m. MDT

Utah's Karl Williams flashes his Utah's Karl Williams flashes his "U" as the Utes celebratet their win over Stanford Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Utah won 27-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

TUCSON, Ariz. — It’s been 331 days since the Utah Utes have played a football game outside of the state.

On Nov. 23, 2012, they traveled to Boulder, Colo., and edged Colorado by a 42-35 margin. Aside from a successful trip to BYU earlier this season, Utah has played its five other games since then at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Such a luxury, though, comes to an end Saturday night at Arizona. And make no mistake about it, there are no plans for any sort of vacation.

“We’re going down there for one reason and that’s to play a football game,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s a business trip. Our veterans understand that and we’re making sure the new guys are on the same page.”

Whittingham added that it’s something the Utes (4-2, 1-2) have talked about a bunch in preparing to face the Wildcats (3-2, 0-2).

Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham shakes hands with Trevor Reilly as the Utes celebrate their win over Stanford Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Utah won 27-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Utah Head Coach Kyle Whittingham shakes hands with Trevor Reilly as the Utes celebrate their win over Stanford Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. Utah won 27-21. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

“We’re not there to sightsee or hangout. We’re there to win a game,” said senior captain Trevor Reilly. “We should have a good time, but at the same time we should be focused.”

Despite the lack of an airplane trip until now, Whittingham admits the journey down to BYU last month helped a little bit.

“We bussed down there. It was a night that we didn’t stay at our home hotel, so we got a taste of it,” he said. “But it was, I guess you could say, an abbreviated trip. But it was a road trip nonetheless.”

The road hasn’t exactly been good to the Utes since joining the Pac-12. They’re just 3-6 in conference games away from home — winning at Arizona, Washington State and Colorado, but falling at USC, California, Arizona State, UCLA, Oregon State and Washington.

Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) throws against UCLA in Salt Lake City  Friday, Oct. 4, 2013.  UCLA won 34-27.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah Utes quarterback Travis Wilson (7) throws against UCLA in Salt Lake City Friday, Oct. 4, 2013. UCLA won 34-27. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Whittingham, though, said this matchup has more to do with taking care of the football as much as anything else. In Utah’s only losses this season — to Pac-12 foes Oregon State and UCLA — the Utes turned the ball over nine times on interceptions. Even so, they still came close — falling to the Beavers 51-48 in overtime and to the Bruins 34-27.

“Really, offensively, it boils down to our execution. We’ve got to execute — just like we did last Saturday,” said Whittingham, whose squad is coming off a 27-21 upset win over No. 5 Stanford. “We’ve got to be very good with everything we’re doing and take care of the football.

“In the games we’ve won this year, we’ve taken care of the football. In the games we’ve lost, we haven’t,” he continued. “So the biggest part of our success will be determined by taking care of the ball.”

EXTRA POINTS: Arizona safety Jared Tevis, who leads the Wildcats with 36 tackles, will not play against the Utes because of a knee injury. ... Utah leads the all-time series, 20-16-2, and holds a 9-8-2 advantage in Tucson. ... The Utes defeated the Wildcats 27-24 in the 2005 season opener in Salt Lake City. It was Whittingham’s solo debut as head coach and Brian Johnson’s first game as the starting quarterback.

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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