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Utah football: Utes finished disappointing campaign on a winning note

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 6:03 p.m. MDT

Utah tight end Jake Murphy (82) gets tackled by Colorado defensive back Jered Bell (21) and Colorado defensive back Parker Orms (13) during the first half of a football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Utah won 24-17. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) Utah tight end Jake Murphy (82) gets tackled by Colorado defensive back Jered Bell (21) and Colorado defensive back Parker Orms (13) during the first half of a football game at the Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013. Utah won 24-17. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Saturday’s 24-17 win over Colorado put an end to the longest losing streak in Kyle Whittingham’s nine-year tenure as head coach of the Utah Utes.

“Misery,” Whittingham said. “That was a miserable stretch.”

The five-game skid, which included losses to Arizona (35-24), USC (19-3), Arizona State (20-19), Oregon (44-21) and Washington State (49-37), led the Utes to a second consecutive 5-7 finish. It followed a promising 4-2 start that included a 27-21 upset win over fifth-ranked Stanford.

“I’m disappointed in it. Fans are disappointed. We’re all disappointed. That’s no secret,” Whittingham said of the slide. “But being able to snap that was a positive. That was certainly something that gives us a little bit of momentum going into the offseason.”

Winning for the first time since topping the Cardinal on Oct. 12 didn’t replace the pain of missing out on a bowl game for the second straight year, but it’s a start.

“We are moving forward and will take this as a positive. We sent the seniors off how they should go,” said sophomore quarterback Adam Schulz. “However, we didn’t make a bowl game and should use this as motivation in the offseason.”

The offseason began quickly for the coaching staff.

“We head out recruiting,” Whittingham said. “Everyone takes off (Sunday).”

While noting that the Utes have to get better in a lot of areas, Whittingham acknowledged that there’s a 24/7 effort to improve the perimeter of the team. The Utes feel real good about the line of scrimmage on both sides.

“It’s all about the perimeter players and we’ve got to get it done in recruiting to make that happen,” said Whittingham, who added that it’ll also involve guys already in the program (redshirts and young players) stepping up and being factors.

That’s then. As for the now, Whittingham said the positives against Colorado outweighed the negatives in the final analysis.

“We made the game more difficult than it needed to be. Credit Colorado. They hung in there,” Whittingham explained. “We need to play better and cleaner. Bottom line: We got the win and it was great for the seniors to go out with a win.”

Several seniors made key contributions in their final game at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Middle linebacker Trevor Reilly led the way with 14 tackles (including a fourth-down stop behind the line of scrimmage on a goal-line stand in the first half) and an interception with just less than two minutes left to play. Defensive tackles Tenny Palepoi and LT Tuipolutu had eight tackles and two fumble recoveries, respectively; cornerback Keith McGill made six stops and two pass breakups; and running back Kelvin York ran for a career-high 132 yards and two touchdowns.

Utah never trailed and jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. Colorado, though, managed to climb back into contention after the break and pulled to within seven points and had the ball late in the fourth quarter before Reilly’s interception sealed the outcome.

Junior tight end Jake Murphy said it time to let go of all the negatives associated with the disappointing season.

“I am happy for all the seniors to finish with a win. Our offense felt good and the defense played well. We need to get to work this offseason and get better.”

The Utes have regressed each year in Pac-12 play. They went 4-5 in 2011; 3-6 in 2012; and 2-7 this season.

EXTRA POINTS: Schulz completed 19 of 33 passes for 233 yards with one touchdown and one interception in his third start for the Utes. ... Murphy topped the Utes with eight receptions. Dres Anderson had seven. ... Linebacker Jason Whittingham finished with 10 tackles, reaching double figures for the fourth time this season. ... McGill’s 12 pass breakups on the season were the most since Eric Weddle had a dozen in 2005.

Email: dirk@desnews.com Twitter: @DirkFacer

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