SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knows a thing or two about psychology. Besides practical work experience throughout a lengthy career in football, he also has a bachelor’s degree in the subject.
So, when asked about the mindset of both Utah and Oregon this week — two teams coming off tough losses — Whittingham offered some insight at his weekly press conference Monday. The Utes (4-5, 1-5) travel to Eugene, Ore., to face the sixth-ranked Ducks (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday (FOX Sports 1, 2 p.m.).
First, the Utes. Last week’s 20-19 setback to Arizona State at Rice-Eccles Stadium was the team’s third-straight setback since upsetting then fifth-ranked Stanford (27-21) on Oct. 12.
“It’s been a very frustrating season overall. As I mentioned, we’ve closed the gap so significantly, but again you are what your record says you are and our record is the same as last year. So in that respect the bottom line hasn’t changed,” Whittingham said. “But it’s been frustrating in the fact that we know we’re close. We know we’re close and we’re competing and we’re slugging it out with the guys toe-to-toe that we’re playing.”
Three of Utah’s losses this season have been by a touchdown or less. Against ASU, the Utes squandered a halftime lead for the first time in 49 games and were unable to hold a 12-point advantage in the fourth quarter.
“It was a tough defeat. Life is all about picking yourself up and moving forward and taking on the next challenge. That’s what we are going to do,” Whittingham said. “We’re going to have a great week of practice. My guess is the (team) leaders will do just what we’ve been doing all yearlong and make sure that that happens.”
As for the Ducks, Whittingham had a quick reply as to whether he expects them to be angry or downtrodden after last week’s 26-20 loss at Stanford.
“Angry. They’re a prideful team and they’ve got high aspirations and goals,” Whittingham said of previously unbeaten Oregon. “ ... They’re going to be upset and ready to get back on the winning track. So, yeah, we expect to get their best shot — without a doubt.”
WHERE THE BUCK STOPS: While responding to questions about the shortcomings of the offense, particularly the inconsistent play of the offensive line and the receiving corps, Whittingham made it clear that the coaching staff wasn’t going to point fingers at players and blame them.
“No matter how you spin it, it comes back to coaching. So we’ve got to do a better job there and maximize the guys that we have,” he said. “We’ve moved the football this year. The Stanford game was an example of that. We moved it well and so we’ve just got to do a better job across the board.”
That said, Whittingham noted that there’s a concerted effort to get better at every single position on offense this week. He was especially displeased with how the receivers were getting gloved up against ASU and about the number of missed assignments and technique problems the offensive line had, telling reporters that the pass rush on quarterback Travis Wilson was timed at about 1.8 seconds.
Wilson, who completed just six passes against the Sun Devils and was sacked four times, said the Utes are determined to make the necessary corrections.
“It’s really important we stick together,” he noted. “I know everyone on the offense is doing their best and trying their hardest, as I am, so we’ve just got to make sure we keep doing that. But we’ve got to make sure we make plays and we’ve got to move the ball downfield.”
Oregon’s offense leads the Pac-12 with 51.7 points per game. The Ducks’ defense is allowing just 17.9 points per outing — also ranking No. 1 in the conference.
EXTRA POINTS: Utah’s game at Washington State on Nov. 23 will kick off at 1:30 p.m. MST and be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks. ... Whittingham said that offensive lineman Isaac Asiata will “absolutely” get more playing time this week after grading out at 100 percent in limited action against ASU. ... Oregon is the only Pac-12 team that Utah has yet to play in a conference game. The Ducks and Stanford were not on the Utes’ scheduling rotation in 2011 or 2012. ... The Utes top the country in sacks with 3.67 per game. ... Former “Mountain” broadcaster James Bates and ex-BYU star Brady Poppinga will be on the FOX Sports 1 team calling the game Saturday. ... According to the NCAA rankings, Utah has the third-toughest schedule in the nation. The Utes’ nine opponents, thus far, have a combined FBS record of 45-17. ... Utah senior Sean Fitzgerald was named to the CoSIDA Capital One Academic All-District team.
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