Football teams always talk about the need for resiliency, the will to keep pushing when things get tough.
Well, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham doesn’t doubt his team has such determination.
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The Utes had waited for three seasons to get that signature win and they never gave up or doubted themselves, even this year when they came oh-so-close and suffered not one but two Pac-12 Conference losses.
Wanting to make sure his team wasn’t losing the edge, Whittingham gathered the Utes on Thursday for a meeting to make sure they were where they needed to be mentally, he said.
Saturday night, they showed they were with the 27-21 upset of No. 5 Stanford.
That the Utes hung in there when times were tough, through the 0-4 league starts and heartbreaking close losses, made Whittingham as proud as the result itself.
"We could have fragmented and thought, ‘what is the point?’ and that type of deal," he said. "But this senior class refused to let that happen. They are tough individuals and they knew they were close and we knew they were close and they persevered."
That the Utes did so is an encouraging sign for the future as they head into the second half of the schedule.
The Utes (4-2, 1-2 Pac-12) will play four of their last six games on the road, starting with Saturday’s game at Arizona. Difficult contests at Oregon and USC highlight the schedule, but the upset over Stanford puts the Utes in a good spot, said defensive end Trevor Reilly.
"We’re only two games away from a bowl game," he said. "We’re only 1-2 in the South in the conference, but you never know what can happen. At this point we just do our best and hope for the best."
As the Utes showed on Saturday, good things can happen when they keep a positive outlook.
Despite Stanford’s ranking, recent success or highly touted lineups, the Utes never doubted themselves and played toe-to-toe with a team that had national championship hopes.
Perhaps most significant for the Utes was the balanced way in which they beat the Cardinal.
It wasn’t a case of the offense being carried by the defense or the defense bailing out a suspect offense. Saturday’s win was one of those perfect games where the Utes had a balanced effort.
The defense did its part by creating turnovers and slowing Stanford’s running game while the offense moved the ball with surprising ease against the Cardinal.
Quarterback Travis Wilson showed no ill effects of his performance in Utah’s loss to UCLA in which he had six passes intercepted.
Granted, not all were his fault, but doubt in his ability could have crept into his mind. Instead he was strong, completing 23 of 34 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.
"I knew I needed to keep on moving and get the job done," he said. "I never wanted to let them down."
Wilson was speaking of only himself, but he might as well have been speaking for the team, which has the fortitude Whittingham wants.
"I give all the credit to the players," Whittingham said. "They believe in what we are doing and didn’t panic."
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