Despite Utah's losing streak, which matches the second-longest such streak he has experienced as Utah's head coach, Utah's Kyle Whittingham remains firm that the Utes are an improved team and are moving in the right direction. But that isn't to say the coach is satisfied.
If anything, this season is ranking among the most trying times in his nine years as head coach.
The Utes have lost three games by a touchdown or less, causing both hope and frustrations at the same time.
"We are standing toe-to-toe with the best the conference has to offer, but we've got to find a way to get more wins," he said. "We're more competitive, but it's not about being competitive. It's about getting W's and that is the next hurdle we have got to get over, finding a way to win these games."
The Utes knew this season was going to be tough and it has lived up to those expectations: Utah has the third most difficult schedule in the country, according to NCAA statistics. Utah opponents are 45-17 this season.
However, knowing this season is ranked as challenging as it feels is no consolation.
The Utes are trying to claw their way back to a .500 record, something they've rarely had to do in recent years.
Last year's 5-7 team was the worst record a Utah team has had under Whittingham, who was a combined 33-6 in the three seasons before the Utes joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
Since then he is 17-17, including the current 4-5 mark.
"It has been a frustrating season overall," Whittingham said. "As I mentioned, we've closed the gap significantly, but, the record you are what and who your record says you are and our record is the same as last year, so in that respect the bottom line hasn't changed."
As many disappointments as the Utes have had lately, the goal remains getting to a bowl game, he said.
"The math gets easier and easier as the season goes on," Whittingham said. "We've got to win two out of three."
The Utes aren't making any wholesale changes to their offensive line, but freshman Isaac Asiata has played well enough to get more snaps, Whittingham said.
The Utes have given up 13 sacks in the last three games.
"We'll take a look at some different combinations," Whittingham said. "The starting five have been working together since back in spring ball, but when things aren't going right you have to look at all your options. We'll look at what we can do to shuffle the deck, but that unit has played well and we have to get it back to where it was earlier in the season."
Whittingham said the line made fewer mistakes in Tuesday's practice.
The Utes practiced at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Tuesday because the high school playoffs will use the stadium Thursday, Utah's normal day for the stadium. ... The Utes piped in crowd noise to help prepare for Oregon. ... Tight end Jake Murphy was at practice as he continues to recuperate from wrist surgery. He isn't cleared for action, but Whittingham said it was "great to have him out there."
Utah at No. 6 Oregon
O Saturday, 2 p.m.
TV • Fox Sports 1