Utah football head coach Kyle Whittingham addressed the media for his weekly press conference following the 20-17 double overtime win over the Stanford Cardinal. Utah next faces the Arizona Wildcats in the last home game of the year and the final homega
"Good road win. Another good road win for our guys, as has been the M.O. all year, right down to the wire and beyond. Two overtimes. Just reiterating what I said after the game, proud of the way our guys continue to find ways to win and to slug it out till the bitter end and just keep playing. That's the bottom line, they just keep playing. Nate Orchard, a great individual performance. Leads the nation in sacks. Just a tremendous defensive end. One of the best, if not the best, defensive end in the country. Excellent field position battle won by our punt game and Tom Hackett in particular. He did an outstanding job for us. He leads the nation in punts inside the 10-yard line. Just having an outstanding year. A lot of good things on Saturday. The best of them all obviously is getting the win. Getting our sights set on Arizona. They come to our place. Last home game for our seniors. A lot of great seniors in this class. They have given us a lot of effort and really everything they've got over the last several years. We're going to honor them before the game. We're really going to miss those guys," said Whittingham.
Utah has played in and won a lot of close games this year, including the 20-17 win over Stanford in double overtime. It was Utah's third overtime game and second win on the season. Multiple other games came down to the final possession of regulation as well.
"I think it can be something that becomes the type of team that you are, being able to win those close games, and it becomes a mentality, is the best way to put it. Our guys have definitely developed that mentality through the course of the season. We haven't won every close game, we know that, but these guys believe that they are going to win every game that they are in. When it comes right down to the wire, there is a lot of belief on our team that they are going to get it done. And they have most weeks," said Whittingham.
Utah's offense managed only one touchdown in regulation but scored two in the two overtime periods. The offense seemed to open up a bit in overtime. Having the short field certainly helped, but the play calling seemed more aggressive during overtime.
"I think obviously the offense had a lot of time to take a look what Stanford was doing defensively. When we got to the overtime, there were a few things we hadn't dialed up yet that looked good based on what we had seen in earlier sequences and just a couple of just really excellent calls by [Utah offensive coordinator] Dave [Christensen]. Excellent execution by [quarterback] Travis [Wilson]," said Whittingham. "A nice little out and up to Kaelin Clay in the first overtime period. Based on what leverage we were expecting to see from the secondary, great job by Travis sticking the slant route into [Kenneth Scott] for the touchdown."
The Stanford game was a good one for Utah on the injury front. Additionally, Whittingham provided an update on injured linebacker Jason Whittingham.
"It was one of our better games as far as getting banged up. [Linebacker] Jason [Whittingham], there's a chance he'll play this week. It's gonna come right down to probably a game time decision. But, we expect, we hope to have him for certain for our next two games: our final regular season game and the bowl game unless there is a setback of some sort," said Whittingham.
Some people have criticized Utah for running what they believe to be an overly conservative offense this season. Whittingham disagrees with this assessment however.
"We're not trying to be conservative on offense. We're just playing the way we think will give us the best chance to win. All we care about is winning. That's what we're doing. There's no conscious effort to be conservative or anything like that. We're just trying to give us the best percentage and the best chance to win the football game. Job one in doing that is taking care of the football, and our offense did a great job of that on Saturday of taking care of the football. We were plus one in the turnover margin. When we're plus one in the turnover margin, we're a pretty good team," said Whittingham.
Utah's next opponent, Arizona, is a team that shows balance. They are strong on offense both running and throwing as you would expect with Rich Rodriguez as the head coach. Arizona has done enough on defense to get wins as well.
"They're a very balanced team. I think that's the thing you can say about them. They're running the ball well offensively, about 185 yards a game. Their over 300 yards a game throwing the ball. Their approaching 500 yards a week on offense. Their scoring points. Defensively, their playing well. In addition, they've got a really good linebacker in Scooby Wright. He's one of the best in the nation. He's a really good player for them. I would say the thing they present is a very balanced team. Across the board, there's really no area where they have a clear weakness," said Whittingham.
Whittingham thinks very highly of Rodriguez as a coach and the job he has done turning Arizona into a legitimate Pac-12 contender.
"Rich has done a phenomenal job there," said Whittingham. "He's a guy that I've always had a great deal of respect for. It doesn't surprise me what he's doing there because he's a top-flight football coach."
Mobile quarterbacks present a unique challenge for a defense. It forces pass rushers to play with more lane integrity and cannot focus as much on just getting to the quarterback. Arizona has a mobile quarterback in redshirt freshman Anu Soloman.
"[Arizona quarterback Anu Soloman's mobility] is certainly a concern, and that is one of his strong suits. He's very quick, shifty. It's a lot like when you are playing Oregon and these teams that have a quarterback that is a legitimate running threat. Down and distance plays into it as well. There are certain downs and distances where you are going to turn your pass rush loose regardless of the quarterback. You have to be really tuned in to spacing in your rush lanes, lane integrity in the pass rush and that forces you to do that when you are playing a quarterback like Soloman. He's having a nice year - redshirt freshman is doing a nice job," said Whittingham.
It was announced this week that Jason Fanaika will be starting at linebacker over Gionni Paul. Fanaika started the season at defensive end but has played well transitioning to linebacker due to the thin depth at the position.
"Gionni Paul will play. He's been hobbled this year. He's gone through a lot of stuff physically. Again, we don't ever detail that out. That's the primary reason. Plus, Jason's been playing good football. He's been a real pleasant surprise for us making that transition at midseason when we got so thin at linebacker coming from defensive end and playing that spot, and has done a nice job for us," said Whittingham.
There was talk before the season about trying to get another year for Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay. Lately, that is looking less likely, and Clay will be honored as part of the senior class during the Arizona game on Saturday.
"Remote possibility. I think it's really a long shot. With that being said, we're gonna go ahead and honor Kaelin. We will take every possible angle we can to get another year for Kaelin. If it is possible, we certainly will pursue it, but it looks like it is a long shot," said Whittingham.
Utah will honor the Ute tribe on Saturday during the Arizona game. Whittingham was asked his thoughts on honoring the Ute tribe.
"It's great to be able to honor the Ute tribe in some different ways on Saturday. We're proud to wear the drum and feathers on our helmet. It is absolutely a huge deal to us. There is going to be some things going on at halftime, and we won't be able to see any of those things going on, but I'm glad we're doing it. It's a great way to recognize the Ute tribe and what they mean to our University and our football team," said Whittingham.
Be sure to listen to our audio with Utah punter Tom Hackett, He provides some insight and great quotes.