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Utah football: Utes are in a slide

Published October 25, 2011 1:17 pm

Player questions team's heart, but coach says players aren't giving up.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Minutes after defensive tackle Star Lotulelei confessed he felt his teammates couldn't match Cal's desire to win Saturday following the Utes' 34-10 loss, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham adamantly said the Utes wouldn't lose their will in what is becoming a losing year in the Pac-12.

Their differing opinions show just how tenuous a time it is for the Utes, who are 0-4 in the Pac-12 and play Oregon State next. The Beavers are coming off a 44-21 win over Washington State, displaying a scoring ability that seems far from the Utes' level.

Utah is averaging just 13 points in league play, has a quarterback whose confidence seems shaken after a four-turnover performance Saturday and can't depend on the running game to produce consistent numbers.

Just as disturbing was Lotulelei's acknowledgement that the Utes simply didn't have what it took mentally to contend with the Bears.

"It felt like we could have beaten this team and they just outplayed us, they wanted it more than us," he said. "It doesn't happen often, and it shouldn't have happened today. For us to prove we can keep playing in this league, we have to come back and play better against Oregon State."

Whittingham, who has never had a losing season as a head coach, doesn't believe his team is on the verge of letting the season slip away.

"That isn't my mentality," Whittingham said. "We have to keep working and finding ways to win. There is still a lot of football left. There are five games left, and that benchmark of trying to get six to get to the bowl-qualifying status is still very much a reality. I'm not ready to say we're not good enough. We have to keep working and try to fix our issues."

It's debatable, though, how much the Utes can fix in the time they have left. The preseason concerns that the offensive line could struggle have been validated with Jon Hays getting sacked 14 times in his three starts. The ineffectiveness of the passing game makes running back John White easy prey for defenses such as Cal's, which allowed him just 39 yards on 15 carries.

White said he was embarrassed by the showing and, like Lotulelei, said the Utes need to be mentally stronger.

"We have to fight to get better this week," he said. "We need more effort out there. We need more fight."

It's either time for the Utes to find that drive or throw up their hands and say "enough."

The latter isn't an option, Whittingham said.

"We've played good teams in the Pac-12 so far and we have good teams coming up on the schedule, but I don't think we have a feeling of hopelessness, not at all, not in any sense," Whittingham said.

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Utah quarterback feeling more heat

The Utes have given up 14 sacks in the past three games. Here is a look at the number of sacks given up against each opponent this year.

Montana State • 2

USC • 2

BYU • 0

Washington • 2

ASU • 3

Pitt • 7

Cal • 4 —

Oregon State at Utah

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