Utah football: Utes moving past USC loss as BYU looms
If the Utah Utes have rally caps, now would be a good time to jam them on tight.
As emotionally and physically drained as the Utes were following their 23-14 loss at USC, they must regroup and prepare for one of their biggest games of the season with a trip to BYU next on the schedule.
The Utes pinpointed this part of the schedule several months ago, knowing it would be a challenge to play USC and BYU back-to-back.
Their outlook hasn't changed since then, just their undefeated record. Hopes of going into the rivalry week undefeated were dashed when USC blocked a last-second field goal by the Utes and returned it for a touchdown.
"As a team, we've got to forget about this one as quickly as possible," quarterback Jordan Wynn said. "Obviously there are frustrations over the weekend, but the worst thing we can do is let this carry over. That is something the leaders and the captains of the teams have to make sure doesn't happen. We'll watch the tape, learn from it and I know it will just keep us going."
The last time the Utes were in a similar situation, things didn't go so well. The Utes followed a 40-7 loss to TCU with a 28-3 loss at Notre Dame, a game that players later admitted they had trouble preparing for after the loss to the Horned Frogs.
Yet these are just the kinds of situations the Utes know they must handle if they are going to make a successful adjustment to the Pac-12, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham reminded his team Saturday.
"You lose a football game and it hurts, but you have to recover quickly," Whittingham said. "We've got a week of preparation ahead to get ready for the next game so we'll put this one behind us and on Monday get started."
To a certain extent, it helps the Utes that the team they are preparing for is BYU. If they had to get up for Washington, Arizona or another Pac-12 team the Utes have little recent history with, it might be easy to wallow in the USC loss a bit longer.
But there's no sense of detachment with the BYU matchup, and emotions won't be a problem Saturday, defensive lineman Dave Kruger said.
"There is so much competition, not only with the two teams but with the people in Utah," he said. "Fans come up all the time saying 'I don't care if you lose all the games, just beat BYU.' You hear that from so many fans."
To do that, the Utes have to add to the improvement they showed Saturday while addressing new issues.
The offense ran more smoothly at times against the USC defense than it did in the season-opening win over Montana State, with Wynn taking more shots down field. Freshman Dres Anderson showed he has the moxie to thrive in big-game settings, and receiver Reggie Dunn showed he could be a versatile asset to the offense with a 51-yard run in the second half.
The Utes had plenty of shortcomings, too. The offense failed to score on five possessions in the fourth quarter, Wynn's throwing still wasn't where it needed to be and the run game wasn't effective.
The combination of a little bit of good mixed with the sting of a loss gives the Utes plenty to work on this week.
"We'll keep working and stick together," Whittingham said. "This football team will continue to prepare every week and we won't get down on ourselves."
Motivation won't be a problem, said defensive end Joe Kruger.
"It was disappointing because we had so many chances to tie the game," he said following the USC loss. "But we are going to do better any way we can next week. It's our rivalry week so we've got to bring a good offense and get ready for the rest of the season, too."
Utah's offense was stymied in the fourth quarter against USC, much as it was in the opener against Montana State. Here is a look at how the Utes have scored in their two games, by quarter:
vs. Montana St. vs. USC
1 17 0
2 7 7
3 3 7
4 0 0