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Utah football: Utes want to go into offseason on positive note

Published November 29, 2013 10:21 pm

College football • Tight end Murphy noncommittal about returning next season.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Utes don't want to go into the offseason on a six-game losing streak, which is why they are so determined to beat Colorado when the teams meet at noon Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Beyond the strong desire to close out a miserable season with a win, little is certain for the Utes (4-7, 1-7) when they head into the offseason.

Utah's failure to achieve bowl eligibility for the second year in a row could be blamed away by injuries to key players, the challenge of taking on one of the nation's toughest schedules or sheer bad luck, but ultimately none of those factors matter.

"You are what your record says you are," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has said.

Which means the 2013 Utes ultimately will be remembered as a team that never lived up to hopes.

The Utes, who are saddled with their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1989 (4-8) and 1990 (4-7), face a lot of uncertainty in the offseason.

Such a poor performance often comes with staff shakeups and philosophical changes for programs.

Whittingham, who is in his ninth season, plans to wait until the season is over before he determines if any changes are necessary.

"We'll evaluate it and see where the strengths and weaknesses were," he said.

On the surface that doesn't seem like a very hard task. While the defense improved overall, the secondary struggled, particularly when it came to creating turnovers. The Utes logged just two interceptions this season.

Offensively, the Utes had few playmakers outside of tight end Jake Murphy and receiver Dres Anderson.

The Utes must do a better job recruiting to improve those areas, Whittingham said.

"We need more speed on the perimeter," he said. "That is no question."

And the Utes face a quandary at quarterback, not knowing the status of Travis Wilson.

Utah could be going into the 2014 season with the prospect of starting a new quarterback if Wilson's career is over.

The Utes don't know Murphy's status either since he was noncommittal this week when asked if he'd return for his senior year, saying he wanted to talk to his coaches and family about the possibility of going pro.

If he does return, he knows where the Utes must improve as an offense.

"We have to do a better job of closing out games," he said. "We saw we can be competitive and we know we can play with these guys in the Pac-12. And we need to build off that confidence and win these games."

Utah also must figure out how to make its running game more effective and find more go-to receivers.

Having tight end Westlee Tonga and receiver Kenneth Scott return from season-ending injuries will help, but their absences revealed just how important it is for the Utes to have more depth in the future, too.

As physical as the Pac-12 is, Utah has to assume it is going to lose one or two key players to injuries, and they must do a better job of adjusting.

But even with the disappointments, co-offensive coordinator Dennis Erickson believes the Utes made some headway and have a good foundation for the future.

"It was a tough year here, but we'll get it done," he said. "We weren't as consistent as we would have liked to have been or should have been, but we will get that corrected."

All the issues will be addressed soon enough, Whittingham said.

For now, Utah's focus remains on closing out the season on a positive note. It would be one of the few positives this season in what Whittingham termed an even more frustrating season than 2012.

"All you can do is keep working and keep searching for answers and keep trying to get things headed back in the right direction," he said.

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Colorado at Utah

O At Rice-EcclesStadium

Saturday, Noon

TV • Pac-12 Network

Radio • 700 AM

Records • Utah 4-7, 1-7; Colorado 4-7, 1-7

Series history • Colorado leads 31-25-3

Last meeting • Utah won 42-35, Nov. 23, 2012

About the Utes • The Utes' five-game losing streak is the longest since losing six in a row in 2002. ... Receiver Dres Anderson needs 92 yards to become the seventh player to reach 1,000 receiving yards. ... Utah will honor its 19 seniors in a pregame ceremony. ... Utah ranks second nationally in sacks with 36.

About the Buffaloes • Have equaled the numbers of games won (4) this year than in the past two seasons combined. ... Receiver Paul Richardson is averaging 117.2 yards a game. ... Their defense is one of the worst in the country, giving up 475.3 yards per game. ... Greg Henderson is ranked 10th in the Pac-12, averaging 0.4 interceptions a game.