Utah football: Utah hungry for a big game
Shortly after Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he was satisfied with Utah's victory over San Jose State because "a win is a win," offensive lineman Zane Taylor explained why that isn't necessarily true.
Yes, beating Utah State and San Jose State kept the Utes undefeated, but "I'm definitely itching for a big win," he said. "I know everyone else is, too. The last two wins have been ugly, but they've been wins, but this team is really hungry for a big win against a good team."
Taylor went on to say he wanted to have that "big win when you feel great when you go home."
Suffice it to say the Utes weren't whooping and hollering back to Salt Lake City after Saturday's not-so-smooth victory at San Jose State.
But if they can go into Eugene and beat the Ducks, who are unranked but still favored, there will be plenty of celebrations on the plane ride home.
The Utes, who insist they prepare for every opponent the same way no matter how they are rated, won't deny there is added value in big wins.
They are confidence builders and they are attention getters, intangibles that handling their first two opponents didn't necessarily provide the Utes.
Beating a Pac-10 team on its home field in a nationally televised game would be much different, they say.
"I'm not taking anything away from those teams, but this is a really big game, a big conference we're playing against," corner Brandon Burton said. "We do expect to go in and have a good outing and we'd like to get this one in our bag."
However, as much as the Utes are looking forward to Saturday's challenge, they acknowledge there is a lot of work to do before they get on their charter flight Friday.
The red zone offense needs work, the secondary needs to get better and Utah's kicking responsibilities will be reviewed.
"We certainly have to elevate our level of play against a good team; we have our work cut out for us," Whittingham said. "It's a very difficult place to play but our guys will be ready. We'll continue to work on what we aren't doing so well and we'll go from there."
In addition, injuries to offensive lineman Caleb Schlauderaff (knee) and running back Matt Asiata (shoulder) could cause other changes. Both are questionable for Saturday.
If Asiata can't go, junior Eddie Wide, normally Utah's answer for a scatback, will start in his place.
If Schlauderaff, a two-year starter, can't play, freshman Tevita Stevens and junior Walter Watts will be the guards. Stevens started ahead of Watts at right guard against San Jose State.
Such an inexperienced lineup isn't an ideal situation against a strong team like Oregon, but it's what the Utes might have. Schlauderaff and Asiata could both be game-time decisions, Whittingham said.
Oregon is having its own struggles. The Ducks lost to Boise State in the season opener and are without their star running back LeGarrette Blount, who was suspended for the season after punching a Boise State player after the game.
The Ducks barely beat Purdue 38-36 Saturday with an offense that was suspect at times, despite the final point tally.
However, as the Utes proved last year, teams ultimately can't be judged by the quality of wins, just wins.
For the Utes, just beating the Ducks would be quality enough.
"We have to do a much better job in a lot of areas this Saturday to come out with a victory," Whittingham said.
Joe Phillips, who replaced Ben Vroman after he missed three field goals, could be used in short yardage kicks, Whittingham said. The kicking game will be assessed this week in practice.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 3-2 vs. the Pac-10
W, Oregon State, 31-28, 2008
W, UCLA, 44-6, 2007
L, Oregon State, 24-7, 2007
L, UCLA, 31-10, 2006
W, Arizona 27-24, 2005