That’s life in the Pac-12. Every single week it’s challenging and this week happens to be a little stiffer challenge than some of the other weeks. —Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — Another week, another ranked opponent for the Utah Utes.
Nine days after dropping a 34-27 decision to 12th-ranked UCLA, they’ll take on fifth-ranked Stanford at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Saturday’s kickoff is set for 4 p.m.
“That’s life in the Pac-12,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Every single week it’s challenging and this week happens to be a little stiffer challenge than some of the other weeks.”
The Cardinal (5-0, 3-0), who are coming off a hard-fought 31-28 win over previously unbeaten Washington late Saturday, aren’t overlooking the Utes, either. When asked about future games against UCLA and Oregon, Stanford coach David Shaw made it clear that his focus is on the Utes.
“I have no idea who we play after Utah. It's tough enough next week. It's one of the loudest stadiums in our conference,” Shaw said. “They play extremely well there, and everyone said UCLA was going to go in there and blow them out, and that was a tough one. Utah turned the ball over a ton. If they didn't, that game would have been a lot closer, and it might have even gone the other way.
“This is a team that plays great at home. I have a lot of respect for their coaching staff. In all three phases they do a really good job, so we'll have to come ready to play,” he continued. “It's going to feel like a short week with the travel and finishing the game (against Washington) basically on Sunday, so we've got to make sure our guys are ready to go (this) week.”
Led by junior quarterback Kevin Hogan (937 yards passing, 148 yard rushing), senior running back Tyler Gaffney (449 yards rushing), junior wide receiver Ty Montgomery (23 receptions) and senior linebacker Shayne Skov (42 tackles), Standford is described by Whittingham as a physical group that is very sound in its schemes.
Although Utah didn’t play Stanford in its first two seasons in the Pac-12, Whittingham and his staff did study them indirectly while looking at crossover tape of other conference opponents.
“We have just casually observed them for the last couple of years but obviously now, this year, we’re putting them under the microscope and doing our homework on them,” Whittingham said.
Stanford will provide Utah with a big challenge on several fronts. The Utes have lost three straight games to Associated Press Top 25 foes and are just 2-8 against ranked opponents since upsetting No. 4 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in January 2009. Teams in the A.P. Top 10 have been especially troublesome. Utah has lost four in a row to such squads overall and five consecutive at home. The last time the Utes prevailed over a Top 10 team in Salt Lake City was a 36-31 decision over No. 8 Arizona State in 1973.
When including games on the road or at neutral sites, Utah is just 3-17 overall against teams ranked in the Top 10.
History, though, isn’t the biggest battle Utah faces with its Pac-12 affiliation. Whittingham considers the league one of the two best conferences in the nation. He noted that there are always challenges — and then some — on the schedule.
The Utes, for example, have a date at No. 2 Oregon left to play this season — along with trips to Arizona, USC and Washington State. Besides Stanford, there’s still Arizona State and Colorado on the home slate.
“It’s life in the Pac-12 and that’s what it is,” Whittingham said. “It’s very competitive.”
No. 5 Stanford (5-0, 3-0) at Utah (3-2, 0-2)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks