Utah football: Utes have history of strong season finishes
After the humbling loss to Cal, the Utah Utes knew they were on the verge of sinking to the bottom of the Pac-12.
But just when they seemed engulfed in misery, they bobbed back to the surface to not only resurrect the season but also put themselves in position for a decent bowl game.
What happened? The same thing that has happened before with the Utes under coach Kyle Whittingham.
In 2005 and 2007, the Utes managed to turn losing seasons into strong finishes.
In 2005, Whittingham's first year as head coach, Utah started 3-4 and finished 4-1, including a win over Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl.
In 2007, the Utes started 1-3 and finished 8-1.
This season, Utah could finish the regular season on a five-game winning streak after a 3-4 start.
Different circumstances have led to the turnaround, the Utes say. In 2005, everyone was adjusting to a new coaching staff and group of players. In 2007, it was a 27-0 shutout at UNLV that woke up the Utes.
This year, it took a meeting between Whittingham and the juniors and seniors to figure out the team was lacking the necessary level of passion to succeed.
"We had to regroup and figure some things out," defensive lineman Derrick Shelby said. "It helped us turn around the season, and we've kept doing it."
Certainly Utah's schedule has played a part in its results since the front half of the schedule featured the strongest teams in the league.
The season-ending injury to Jordan Wynn played a part in the poor start, too, forcing a change in offensive philosophy and leading to the development of Jon Hays under the duress of playing in a BCS league.
While Wynn's injury was the most notable, the Utes also lost seven other players to season-ending injuries.
That they didn't use the losses or the injuries as reasons to allow the season to slip away is a point of pride for the Utes.
"We came into the season with high hopes and they got shot down early," lineman Star Lotulelei said. "But now we think we have a great chance of finishing well. Hopefully everything works out for us."
Whittingham has had meetings with his players before and has often spoken to his seniors to get a handle on the team's psyche. However, senior Tony Bergstrom said the post-Cal session had a bigger impact than anyone thought it might.
"We put everything on the table, what guys' thoughts were and what the issues were, and we looked at the Cal game and the previous Saturday and what the energy was, what the plays being called were and got it all out. We put everything on the table and basically aired our dirty laundry. It was good, we realized all the things we have to fix, and we've done a good job of that so far."
Since the Cal game, the Utes have realized more about themselves than what they had to fix. What they realized will make them a stronger team going forward, Shelby said.
"We're resilient that is what the coaches instill in us," he said. "We talked about finishing strong. We didn't want to quit before the season was over. It's not about how you start, but how you finish."
Utah's finishes under Kyle Whittingham
The Utes have a chance to finish the season on a six-game winning streak, including a bowl appearance. This is how they have performed under Whittingham in the last six games (including bowls):
2005 • 4-2
2006 • 4-2
2007 • 5-1
2008 • 6-0
2009 • 4-2
2010 • 3-3
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