Utah kicked off its bowl preparations Wednesday at the Spence Eccles Field House.

The Utes, who expect to face Navy in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl on Dec. 20, returned to the practice field for the first time since ending the regular season with a 17-10 setback at BYU.

"It's great to get back out here," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "It's what we needed."

Though a bowl invitation may not be extended until Sunday, the Utes are gearing up for the most likely scenario. They watched a little film on Navy but won't introduce anything schematically until the weekend.

By then, Whittingham noted, the matchup should be official.

"They look like a very good team on tape," defensive end Martail Burnett said. "If we play them it's going to be a tough game."

Safety Steve Tate acknowledges the Midshipmen will be difficult to defend. They're extremely physical and have a high-powered offense.

Barring a series of upsets Saturday, which could land BYU in the Bowl Championship Series, Utah and Navy will meet in San Diego.

"We've got to go into this game expecting a shootout and look for opportunities to make plays," said quarterback Brian Johnson, who acknowledged it was good for the team to get back out on the field after the loss to BYU.

His teammates agreed.

"The attitude was great today. It was a lot like last year," Tate said. "I think that we'll battle back. It's something we've been through before, and I don't think that will change. I think we'll be able to battle back and prepare for our bowl game."

The Utes are determined to move past the BYU setback and look ahead.

At 8-4 overall, the Utes can reach nine wins for just the fifth time in program history.

Johnson said it would be quite an accomplishment for a squad that started out 1-3 and was plagued with injuries. The Utes, he added, scratched, clawed and fought their way back into contention.

"It's a testament to the resiliency of this team and the commitment the guys have put in through the entire season," Johnson said.

The next step is simple. Utah has won six straight bowl games and is looking for more.

"We've got to win our seventh in a row," Tate said. "That's our goal now."

SORE SHOULDER: Whittingham said Johnson won't take any reps in practice this week after taking a hit on his throwing shoulder in the BYU game. The injury, which he originally suffered in the season-opening loss at Oregon State, won't require surgery of any kind — just rest.

Whittingham said Johnson will re-evaluated next week.

EXTRA POINTS: The Utes won't practice until Friday and Saturday, allowing more free time for players to focus on academics ... Whittingham said defensive tackle Gabe Long is "week-to-week" with a sore shoulder. He's hopeful the senior will be available for the bowl game ... Navy (7-4) will close out its regular season Saturday against Army.


E-mail: [email protected]