Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
Utah quarterback Brian Johnson (3) leads the post-game celebration for the Utes.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham refuses to look too far ahead. Check that, two far ahead. He and the Utes have a narrowed focus with a pair of games remaining in the regular season.

"We're just working hard. We take them one at a time," Whittingham said. "We've got New Mexico this week. If we can find a way to play well this week, that's what we are looking for right now."

The Utes (7-3, 4-2) enter Saturday's home finale with the Lobos (7-3, 4-2) on a six-game winning streak. The run followed an injury plagued 1-3 start and has kept them in the running for the

Mountain West Conference title — entering a season-ending stretch of games against New Mexico and BYU.

"I'm proud of our guys for how they got things turned around,"

Whittingham said. "They fought through that adversity, never got down on each other and just fought our way back into it. I'm proud of them for that."

It's not enough, though. The Utes want more.

"Our job is not done by any means. We want to win the rest of our games," quarterback Brian Johnson said. "And I'm not sure if it's even going to be done then. We still have a bowl game."

The prospect of the latter is also a motivating factor.

"Two more wins and we go to a great bowl game. There's not a better way to end my career," middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni said. "It could have been better at the start, but since it wasn't, the best way to finish it is how we are."

The current roll, explained safety Steve Tate, has brightened the big picture. He said the early rash of injuries took an emotional toll on the Utes and wasn't easy to overcome.

"We're pleased, obviously, with where we are right now," Tate explained. "But we can't get complacent. We're still hungry."

And no one's leaving the table.

Whittingham points out that the team's practice habits, work ethic and film study continue to be "very good."

Jiannoni considers it a reflection of character.

"We started out crappy. Everybody knows that. We had a bad start but the way we fought back showed everybody who we are," he said. "I think it's a special thing. We could end up 9-3. That's a great season. That's really good. That's the best season I will have as a starter.

"It's going to be good if we can finish out like that," Jiannoni added.

Teammate Kyle Gunther, who is a team captain along with Johnson, Tate and Jiannoni, stated that the Utes simply have to do it.

"We're not really thinking of it as a streak. But we could finish with nine wins in the regular season and that puts us in a good spot," Gunther said. "It's all over if we don't win the next two games."

The Utes, he continued, carry a grudge into both contests. They lost to both New Mexico and BYU last season.

"That's more on our minds than the streak or a bowl game,"

Gunther said. "These are two teams that beat us last year. They were heartbreakers, both of them.

"They hurt. Both of those losses hurt real bad because it wasn't like we got out-toughed or anything," he explained. "We didn't feel like we were the worse team. We feel like we were the better team."

Utah's current focus, however, is on the present. Johnson insists the Utes aren't looking back — nor, too far ahead.

"There's a lot of football left to be played," Johnson said. "So we've just got to keep playing with the same passion, the same energy level and the same execution week in and week out."

It's an approach that is paying big dividends.

"Credit the whole team and credit the leaders of the team. The coaches have kept us motivated each week," Tate said. "We're proud of what we've accomplished, but we're still hungry. We can't get complacent."

Utah's remaining schedule

Date ... opponent ... TV

Nov. 17 ... vs. New Mexico, 3:30 p.m. ... mtn.

Nov. 24 ... at BYU, noon ... CSTV


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