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Utah football: Ute coach Kyle Whittingham vows to keep working, searching for answers

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 3:58 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah prepares to play USC  Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif.  
 (Tom Smart, Deseret News) Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham as the University of Utah prepares to play USC Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, in Los Angeles, Calif. (Tom Smart, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — After last week’s 49-37 setback at Washington State, the Utah Utes entered some unchartered waters. They’re now mired in the first five-game skid in Kyle Whittingham’s nine-year tenure as head coach.

While noting that it’s a competitive profession and that the Utes are in a competitive league, Whittingham acknowledges that the slide has certainly been a huge disappointment — and one he takes personally.

“It’s on my shoulders. I’m in charge of this program, so there’s nowhere to point the finger but right here,” he said. “And all you can do is keep working, and keep searching for answers, and keep trying to get things headed back in the right direction.”

As the Utes prepare for Saturday’s season finale against Colorado, Whittingham praised his team’s unity.

“The chemistry on this team is outstanding,” he said, while crediting the senior class for their efforts in building a genuine family atmosphere within the squad.

And the veterans aren’t finished leading yet.

Defensive end/linebacker Trevor Reilly, a senior captain, dismissed the notion that there isn’t anything left to play for against Colorado after the Utes lost out on a chance at bowl eligibility last week.

“Well me personally, I’m just looking at it as a game to at least help our senior class legacy. I don’t want to be the class that went 4-8 — 5-7 still isn’t that good, but it’s a lot better than 4-8,” Reilly said. “So that’s what I’m looking forward to is hopefully winning the game for the fans, for the alumni.”

Then, there’s the whole losing streak thing.

“My whole entire life, I don’t think I’ve ever had a five-game skid in any sport. So this is new waters for me,” Reilly said. “We’ve just got to pull ourselves out of it. We’ve got to start making bigger plays.”

QUIET RIDE: When asked about the flight home from Washington State, Reilly acknowledged it wasn’t good.

“I don’t think two words were said on the entire plane ride home,” Reilly said. “That’s how it usually is after a loss, but this one really hurt.”

Reilly, in fact, shut off his phone until around noon on Monday — just in time to learn he was supposed to attend the team’s weekly press conference.

FOR THE SENIORS: Sophomore quarterback Adam Schulz emphasized that the season finale is huge because of the investment made by the seniors, not just in the program, but in the sport — many of the guys may be playing the game for the final time on Saturday.

Putting yourself in that place, Schulz noted, is a scary thought.

“You realize that it could be you someday,” he said. “You just want to do everything you can (to help them win) because you expect that from the younger ones when you’re in that spot.”

GOING BOWLING: Utah senior cornerback Keith McGill has been invited to play in the Senior Bowl on Jan. 25 in Mobile, Ala.

Whittingham said he was excited for McGill and praised the way he responded to a position change from safety this season.

“He’s exceeded my expectations,” Whittingham explained. “I knew he’d been a very good corner, but he’s really played exceptionally well and played himself into the Senior Bowl.”

McGill, who is tied for the Pac-12 lead with 10 pass breakups, drew additional praise from Whittingham.

“The in vogue thing now in the NFL is the big corner, and he fits that mold to a ‘T’ and he’s going to have some opportunity there,” Whittingham said of the 6-foot-3 senior.

EXTRA POINTS: After not getting one at Washington State, Utah dropped to second in the nation in sacks (36) and sacks per game (3.27). ... Junior receiver Dres Anderson has moved into a tie with team record-holders Dennis Smith (1989) and Louis Thomas (1968) for the most 100-yard receiving games in a season with six. Anderson needs 92 yards Saturday to become the seventh player in program history to reach 1,000 yards receiving in a season. ... This will be the 60th meeting between Utah and Colorado. The Buffaloes hold a 31-25-3 advantage in the series.

Colorado (4-7, 1-7) at Utah (4-7, 1-7)

Saturday, noon

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Radio: 700 AM

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company