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Utah football: Utes' second season in Pac-12 even harder than first

Published October 14, 2012 11:29 pm

Whittingham says U. is more competitive this season despite 0-3 conference record.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Utes knew one of the challenges of playing in the Pac-12 would be facing one tough team after another, but they're only now getting a full appreciation of just how difficult a Pac-12 schedule can be.

The Utes have no time to dwell on Saturday's 21-14 loss to UCLA, not with what is an even more formidable game looming at No. 8 Oregon State.

The Beavers lit up BYU 42-24 Saturday even as they debuted a new quarterback.

Junior Cody Vaz filled in for the injured Sean Mannion against the Cougars, going 20-for-32 for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his first start.

The win over the Cougars improved the Beavers to 5-0 for the first time since 1939.

Oregon State's improvement from its 3-9 season of a year ago represents one of the reasons Utah is struggling.

While the Utes might be improving, so too is the competition, whether it is UCLA, Arizona State or the Beavers.

Asked to compare Utah's 0-3 start in the Pac-12 this year to last season's 0-4 beginning, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he believes the Utes are more competitive than they were a year ago when Utah lost to Washington 31-14 and ASU 35-14.

"We are a better football team even though the win-loss doesn't say that," he said. "But who you are is what your record says you are. But I feel like we're closer to competing on a weekly basis. It's a good conference. Every single week you have to bring your 'A' game, particularly on the road."

Oregon State has what the Utes don't with several playmakers who have emerged. Vaz's favorite target against the Cougars was receiver Brandin Cooks, who caught eight passes for 173 yards. Backs Storm Woods and Malcom Agnew helped the Beavers gain 118 yards on the ground against BYU's stingy defense.

The Utes, meanwhile, continue to have an offense that is more stagnant than dynamic. Utah started freshman Travis Wilson at quarterback in hopes of breathing some life into the offense against the Bruins. Wilson was solid, going 23-for-33 for 220 yards, but the result was the same.

"Offensively, it's no secret we have to get better," Whittingham said following Saturday's loss. "You aren't going to win many games scoring one touchdown."

Utah cornerback Ryan Lacy said the team is frustrated but hasn't given up.

"We need to dig down deep and do some soul-searching and see what we can do to turn it around," he said. —

Utah at No. 8 Oregon St.

P Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

TV • ESPN or ESPN2 —

California QB commits to Utes

Brandon Cox, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound quarterback out of Pasadena, Calif., committed to the Utah Utes on Sunday.

Cox, who originally committed to Arizona then visited Utah a week ago for the USC game, said he was sold on the Utah program after having a short conversation with Utah coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Brian Johnson following Utah's loss at UCLA.