Utah football: Utes still have goal of reaching bowl eligibility
By Lya Wodraska
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Nov 17 2013 03:56PM
Despite all the crazy, unpredictable twists and turns to Utah’s season, the Utes’ chances of being bowl eligible are coming down to exactly what many thought it would — the final two games.
The Utes, who failed to be bowl eligible last year for the first time since 2002, must win at Washington State (5-5, 3-4 Pac-12) and beat Colorado (4-6, 1-6) at home to reach the necessary minimum six wins for bowl eligibility.
The Utes (4-6, 1-6) won 30-27 in Pullman in 2011 when Coleman Petersen made a 38-yard field goal in overtime.
Beating the Cougars this week seems an even more difficult task, given the recent turn of events.
Quarterback Adam Schulz is expected to start in Travis Wilson’s place with Wilson sidelined from the effects of a head injury suffered in Utah’s loss to Arizona State.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he would have more details on Wilson’s status Monday, but his demeanor Saturday didn’t offer much hope Wilson would play.
Moreover, Washington State is coming off a 24-17 upset of Arizona in Tucson, improving the Cougars to within one win of reaching bowl eligibility for the first time since 2003.
The Cougars will be motivated to get that win against the Utes at home rather than hope to beat Washington on the road in the season finale.
But the Utes have plenty of motivation, too, Whittingham said.
"We want to get these seniors to a bowl game," he said following the Utes’ 44-21 loss to Oregon. "As bad as we feel and as ticked off as we are, we still have a chance to send the seniors out with a bowl game."
The last time the Utes missed bowl games in back-to-back seasons was in 1997 and 1998. But the Utes at least finished with winning records those years, going 6-5 and 7-4.
This year, the Utes can finish .500 at best.
This might not have been the scenario the Utes imagined when they upset Stanford on Oct. 12, but it is the one they are dealt with an offense that continues to have issues.
The Utes would be well-served to take a run-oriented game plan into Washington State, with the Cougars giving up 185 rushing yards per game.
However, the Utes wanted to run the ball against the Ducks, but managed just 116 yards on 42 carries.
The status of running back Kelvin York, who missed the Oregon game with a knee injury, is unknown for Saturday.
Once again, the Utes will likely head into a game hoping the defense can bail them out. Washington State boasts a passing offense that is averaging 360.4 yards a game, but Utah’s defense has played well in recent weeks despite the losing streak.
Can it play well enough to keep the bowl hopes alive? The Utes don’t have any choice at this point.