Whittingham held his first press conference of the season Monday and discussed Utah's upcoming game against Michigan and the Utes' prospects for the 2008 season.
Game week is finally here. We are pleased with our football team's preparation during football camp and the whole offseason. They had excellent winter conditioning and summer workouts, they have a great attitude and work ethic and they are a very committed football team. I couldn't ask for anything more than what they've given. We are very healthy right now, relative to coming out of two-a-days. We should be at full strength barring anything unforeseen.
It's good to see he's pleased with the team's advancements over the course of the year. Hopefully it isn't all fluff and the team is actually ready to take to the field at their highest level. The fact they're healthy, though, is a huge plus, because you never want to enter the season with nagging injuries.
It is a great opportunity for us to be able to go to the `Big House.' We had a chance to go there in '02 and it was a hard-fought game and a defensive struggle, but we played very well. We will have our hands full with Michigan, they are steeped in tradition and have great resources. It is going to be very challenging for us.
The 2002 game was a great effort by the team and a game Utah probably should have won. It's strange how poorly Utah ended that season, yet they gave Michigan a big scare. I hope Utah doesn't enter this game with the mindset they're just happy to be playing in one of the most historic stadiums in college football. I know some teams get caught up in the pageantry of the sport and because of that, they fail to compete. I don't really think that will be the case for Utah, at least I hope not.
On learning anything from openers in previous years:
We have to play better in our opener. Since I have been here, this is our fourth challenging opener. The level of our opponents has been very good. I don't think we handled the Rose Bowl very well in 2006 and let it get the best of us. Last year we were playing well early and we lost a couple of guys to injury and didn't react well to that adversity. We've got a fairly mature team as far as experience and on defense - we have returning starters who have played in big games and hopefully we will handle this better.
I'm glad Whittingham realizes the team has come out flat in the past two openers. I know there is more of an excuse for last season's troubles, but even before Johnson went out things were looking a bit iffy. This team needs to strike early, build confidence and back Michigan against the wall. That is something they did decently against Oregon State, but failed to do against UCLA.
On preparing for the changes at Michigan since last year:
Any opener has an element of unknown regardless of circumstances. It is always a best-guess scenario. It is positive for us both offensively and defensively. There are similarities to us in schematics. That also works both ways - it is good for both of us, since there is a lot of common ground there. It gives us good preparation during practice. We have to go into the game with a broad-based game plan. Two to three series in you get a good idea of your game plan. Football is a game of adjustments - we will make them based on what we are seeing.
Michigan is definitely more unknown than Utah. Not only do they have to replace some key players, Rodriguez is introducing a new offense here and that could work both ways. Utah might not be as up to speed on defending it, but Michigan may be behind in running it. It'll be interesting to see which factor plays a bigger role in the game.
On the changes at Utah since playing Michigan in 2002:
We are much more in the national spotlight since after the 2004 season. Before, when I was an assistant, we would go into living rooms and have to explain a lot about the school. Five bowl wins later, everyone knows who we are now and what we're all about. Utah is much more of a household name than it was back in '02.
In 2002, Utah stumbled badly to start the season. Of course, it all began with that horribly officiated Arizona game. It kind of sent the team into a spiral, even though you knew they had talent -- remember, Utah was picked to finish in the top-half of the Mountain West that year. The Utes competed in most of their losses that season, but came up short in nearly every close game (though they did manage to end the season with a tight victory over BYU). This team is completely different, however. Of course, so is Michigan.
On what a win against Michigan would mean:
A win would go towards gaining respect for both ourselves and our conference. We do that by playing high-quality non-conference opponents. A lot of positives would come from a win. One game doesn't make or break a season. I don't believe in the theory that one game will make a season a disaster or make your whole year. We have to go play well and play our best football. We haven't done that the last few years in the opener.
Utah wins, they instantly become the favorite to bust down the BCS. A win here would go along way toward putting this program back in the national limelight, but I also agree with Whittingham that this game won't make or break the season. Even if Utah wins, they'll have to follow through in the rest of their 11 games and if they do lose, they have 11 more games to rebound. 11-1 with a loss to Michigan is better than 7-5 with a win over Michigan.
I know I said in my preview I don't think Utah will win, but it would not surprise me in the least if they did win. This team has talent and though I don't think they are better than Michigan from top to bottom, when you factor in experience, they do have an edge. Now it's up to Whittingham and the coaches to use that edge as a tool for victory.
Here's video of the press conference.