Utah Football: How Can the Utes Build off Their Win over Stanford?
Utah's 27-21 defeat of No. 5 Stanford was an important milestone for the program in its brief Pac-12 tenure.
The challenge for head coach Kyle Whittingham is maintaining the tremendous momentum established in knocking off the Cardinal.
Last week's game was Utah's fifth in six appearances decided by single digits. All three against Pac-12 opponents have come down to the final possession, and Stanford was the first Utah outlasted.
"That seems to be the M.O. this season," Whittingham said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
In those close calls against Oregon State, UCLA and Stanford, as well as non-conference opponents Utah State and Brigham Young, Whittingham cited "[the] team's resiliency," and "ability to play a full 60 minutes" as the key takeaways.
Otherwise, Whittingham said the most important lesson moving forward was to not get too hung up on the magnitude of last week's win.
"We've already put that game behind us," he said.
Sure, beating the No. 5 team in the nation was huge for Utah. It was the Utes' first win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 15 Pittsburgh to open 2010, and first win against an opponent ranked in the Top 5 since upsetting Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
Still, the Utes are below .500 in the Pac-12 at 1-2. They're fighting to finish on the positive side of the conference win-loss column for the first time since joining.
"The thing about this conference, you've got to be ready every week," Whittingham said. "There are no stationary targets."
The next three weeks pit Utah against three South Division opponents, all of which beat the Utes in 2012.
First is Arizona, which snapped Utah's nine-year streak of bowl appearances.
Defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi hasn't forgotten, as he tweeted Monday.
That's plenty of motivation to keep the Utes from suffering a letdown in Tucson Saturday. Utah has also made itself at home on its last two visits to Arizona Stadium, beating the Wildcats in their last two meetings there in 2005 and 2011.
Saturday is also the Utes first game outside of the Beehive State. They played five of their first six games at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and the sixth was 50 miles down the road at BYU.
Arizona is the first of four road games in five total appearances.
Utah deviates from the conference's norm somewhat in that it's a team identified through its defense.
"Their defense is good overall," Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez said on Tuesday's conference call. "They'll challenge you. They'll get right up in your face."
Defensive ends Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly set the tone against Stanford. Both forced fumbles, and Orchard had two sacks.
The Utes have 20 sacks on the season, sixth most in the nation.
Imposing its defensive will has largely been no problem for the Utes. Capitalizing on the other end is the true concern.
Utah is ranked No. 98 nationally in turnover margin at -3. In its two losses, sophomore quarterback Travis Wilson was intercepted nine times.
Against Stanford, the Utes had an opportunity to slam the door in the third quarter, but a Wilson pass attempt was intercepted deep in Cardinal territory.
Reversing its turnover margin to the positive side is easier said than done. Three of Utah's next four opponents—Arizona, Arizona State and Oregon—rank in the nation's top 20 in that category.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
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