SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's worst start to a season since 2002 has a couple of impressive streaks in peril.
At 2-5 overall with five games left to play, the Utes' bid for 10 consecutive winning campaigns and accompanying bowl appearances is in serious jeopardy. They've lost four straight games entering Saturday's Pac-12 clash against California at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is well aware of the situation.
"You do the math. We're 2-5 with five to go. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what we need to accomplish, and that's certainly going to be a focal point going forward," he said. "We've got a nice run of bowl games — not necessarily getting to bowl games, but winning those bowl games. That's just as important to us as getting there."
The Utes have prevailed in eight of their nine consecutive bowl appearances. Any chance to extend the numbers will require at least four victories in a season-ending schedule featuring home games against Cal, Washington State and Arizona, as well as road trips to Washington and Colorado.
"We're going to have to work hard and make a lot of plays to get there," said Whittingham, who noted that the team is determined to get it done for the seniors.
"Our guys are all in and we owe it to them as a football team, as a football staff, to send them out the right way," he added.
There's no shortage of motivation among the players. A sense of urgency has permeated the program.
"It is very motivating. We don't want to be the year where we didn't go to a bowl game," sophomore safety Eric Rowe said while acknowledging it's very frustrating for the Utes to be in this situation with five games left in the season. "We're still motivated. We still believe if we win one game, we're going to go on a streak and get bowl eligible."
The first step, obviously, is to turn things around. Utah hasn't won a game since defeating BYU 24-21 on Sept. 15. Pac-12 play followed with consecutive losses to Arizona State, USC, UCLA and Oregon State.
"It does feel like it's been a while," said sophomore tight end Jake Murphy, who considers Saturday's game against Cal as really, really important.
"It's really getting down to it now. There's no time to waste," Murphy said. "We've got to have that urgency from the first drive on."
Murphy doesn't think the Utes will panic. They have a good understanding of their capabilities and skills.
The initial focus is a good week of practice to shore up deficiencies that have plagued the team in recent weeks.
"I think we have really good potential to do some good things. We have a whole bunch of good players on this team that have heart and want to strive to get a bowl game this year," said quarterback Travis Wilson. "We've just got to come together and make sure we get the win on Saturday."
Murphy considers the situation critical. There's a lot of urgency, he explained, because no one wants to be part of a team that failed to extend Utah's bowl run. The Utes are determined to do what they need to do.
"We just want to get after it," Murphy said. "If we could, we would play tomorrow just to prove that we can win and we'll do all we can to do that."
There's no confusion or anything, he continued, just the knowledge that they have to execute better and play with more discipline.
Although having their backs against the wall provides a fair amount of pressure, Wilson noted that the Utes are approaching things with a determination to have fun and play hard.
"I definitely don't want to be that team that doesn't make it to a bowl game," Wilson said. "We've just got to make sure we get this win on Saturday."
Successful streaks in peril
Consecutive winning seasons
Year Record Head coach
2003 10-2 Urban Meyer
2004 12-0 Urban Meyer
2005 7-5 Kyle Whittingham
2006 8-5 Kyle Whittingham
2007 9-4 Kyle Whittingham
2008 13-0 Kyle Whittingham
2009 10-3 Kyle Whittingham10 comments on this story
2010 10-3 Kyle Whittingham
2011 8-5 Kyle Whittingham
Nine-year bowl roll
Year Bowl Result
2003 LIBERTY UTES 17, Southern Miss 0
2004 FIESTA UTES 35, Pittsburgh 7
2005 EMERALD UTES 38, Georgia Tech 10
2006 ARMED FORCES UTES 25, Tulsa 13
2007 POINSETTIA UTES 35, Navy 32
2008 SUGAR UTES 31, Alabama 17
2009 POINSETTIA UTES 37, California 27
2010 LAS VEGAS Boise State 26, UTES 3
2011 SUN UTES 30, Ga. Tech 27 (OT)
Utes on the air
California (3-5, 2-3 Pac-12) at Utah (2-5, 0-4)
Saturday, 7:45 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 network
Radio: 700 AM