Kyle Whittingham knew his Utah team had a chance to beat Oregon this past weekend. In fact, he knew his Utes had a really good chance.
A great week of practice will do that for you.
“They seemed more focused,” Whittingham said of his players on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Not that we’ve ever had a lack of focus – because we’ve got a team that works hard and takes care of their business. But they took it to another level in the preparation for last week’s game.”
That focus led to thorough domination of a program that just a few months ago played for a national title. The Utes led 20-13 late in the second quarter before reeling off 42 unanswered points. Utah even ran a few trick plays in the 62-20 win, including a 25-yard touchdown pass from running back Devonate Booker that made it 41-13 early in the third quarter.
“Oh, (our players) love it (when we call those plays),” Whittingham said. “We call them ‘specials.’ Some people call them trick plays or gadgets. We call them special plays. They get excited about that, especially Devontae Booker when he has a chance to throw the ball. He executed that play flawlessly and completed the touchdown pass. Our guys really look forward to that and they’re excited when you dial them up – and you go to dial them up. You can’t just work on them in practice and never call them. Otherwise they start to lose confidence that you’re ever going to use the play. I think that creates even more of a spark when you’re able to utilize some of them in the game, especially when they’re successful. Then the next time you start working on your next set of them, they’re that much more intrigued with them.”
Utah (4-0), which is off this week, is ranked tenth in this week’s AP poll. Not bad for a team that finished 5-7 in both 2012 and 2013.
Whittingham, however, knew his program was turning the corner two years ago.
“We were a whole lot better that second 5-7 year than the previous one,” he said. “We had made a bunch of progress even though the record didn’t say that. The record was obviously exactly the same, but we started to feel like we were competing much better in the ’13 season. And of course in the ’14 season, we were able to break through and get nine wins and get back into bowl play. The whole thing is a product of recruiting. I know we’ve had several good recruiting years in a row that we’ve been able to put together, and that really is the critical aspect of Division I football, is your recruiting. It’s going to make or break you. We feel like we’ve done a pretty good job recruiting and we’ve got more depth, more talent, right now on the roster than we ever have since joining the league. We’re more equipped right now to play in this league and be on a level playing field – more so than ever before.”
Whittingham called the win over Oregon a “confidence builder” for his players but added that they’re already focused on the next opponent.
“No matter how you cut it, it’s just one game,” Whittingham said, “and I tell the team the same thing after a particularly tough loss. Some games, whether you win or lose, you got to move forward. They all count as one in the final analysis. We’ve got a situation now where we’ve got eight conference games in a row starting with Cal next week. And in this conference, you better be ready to play your best football every week. That’s the challenge we got ahead of us – an eight-week grind that we’ve got to be ready for.”