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Utah football: Utes like where they are at midpoint

Published October 22, 2009 9:18 pm

Even though a return to a BCS game is out of the picture.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The quarterback doesn't create many highlights with his passing but he gets the job done. The team has a frustrating knack of playing down to its opponents at times, but seems to find a way to win in the end.

The defense is inconsistent, but usually comes up big in the deciding moments.

Outside of the loss at Oregon, the Utes of 2009 sure look a lot like last year's team as they reach the midpoint of the season, don't they?

The most distinguishing difference between the '08 and '09 Utes, who start the second half of their season Saturday when they play host to Air Force at Rice-Eccles Stadium, is an undefeated season is no longer possible.

Yet, the blemish of losing to Oregon isn't wearing on the Utes since their main goal of winning another conference title remains possible and because Oregon appears to be a quality team.

Even a chance at a BCS game isn't out of the realm of possibility if the Utes can go undefeated in conference play and Oregon continues to play well, which helps Utah's computer rankings.

Last year the Utes were ranked No. 11 in the first BCS standings. They are No. 18 this week in the first rankings of 2009.

"We are where we want to be, we have a lot to play for," Utah defensive lineman Christian Cox said. "We have a lot of motivation."

The second-half of the season looks mixed for the Utes. They play four of their six remaining games at home, but the two away games are their most challenging. Utah plays at TCU on Nov. 14, then at BYU on Nov. 28. Air Force isn't expected to be an easy game either and Wyoming, which visits next week, has been better than expected.

Luckily for the Utes, they believe they are improving with every game, which gives them confidence going into the final stretch.

"As long as we keep working hard and playing good, our main goal, which is to win the conference, is within our grasp," offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff said.

Offensively, quarterback Terrance Cain has settled into his role, the offensive line has improved and running back Eddie Wide is growing into his new job as Matt Asiata's replacement.

The Utes have struggled in the red zone offensively, but feel more confident in their scoring ability after going 3-for-3 inside the 20 during the 35-15 win at UNLV.

"In the beginning of the season our biggest weakness was we'd have these good long drives then choke in the red zone," Schlauderaff said. "We've done better with that in the last couple games but we have to keep improving and get more yards."

Defensively, Utah has been more inconsistent than last season but like the offense is improving. Opponents are averaging 18 points against the Utes, which ranks them 23rd nationally.

"Defensively the run game has been spotty and needs to be shored up but it was good Saturday night [against UNLV]," Whittingham said. "Third downs have been good and the red zone, until the last couple weeks, was a liability but it is shaping up."

Yes at times the Utes win ugly, but they did the same thing last year. They seem to have perfected the thought that style points aren't the ones that matter most.

"We like to say there is only one good thing about competition and that is winning," tight end Ben Hendy said. "That is all that matters, not how we do it. As long as we have more points at the end of the game is all that matters."

Everything is shaping up for the Utes to make a run, they believe. They just aren't talking about the future much. Just like last season's team, they aren't going to get caught looking ahead.

"Our No. 1 goal is to win the MWC championship," Hendy said. "Right now we're preparing for Air Force. There are a lot of opponents left, but we're going to control what we can now."

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By the numbers

Utes' rank in the MWC, nationally: Rushing offense »196.5 3rd, 29th

Passing offense » 222.7 5th, 56th

Scoring offense » 28.7 3rd, 53rd

Rushing defense » 130.2 4th, 57th

Passing defense » 176.5 3rd, 24th

Scoring defense » 18.0 3rd, 23rd

Utes under Whittingham

Utah's first-half and second-half season records under coach Kyle Whittingham: Year First half Second half
2005 3-3 3-2
2006 4-2 3-3
2007 3-3 5-1
2008 6-0 6-0