As the University of Utah embarks on a short workweek with a trip to Stanford coming Friday, Kyle Whittingham opened the week by addressing the biggest college football story in the country.
TCU on Sunday decided to part ways with Gary Patterson, who spent the last 24 seasons on staff, including the last 21 as head coach. In a statement, Horned Frogs athletic director Jeremiah Donati said he and chancellor Victor Boschini asked Patterson to coach for the remainder of the season, but Patterson declined.
With Whittingham and Patterson at the helm of their respective programs, both rose to national prominence from the Mountain West in the late 2000s, including three meetings when both were top-16 programs. All told, the two split six meetings against each other, including an infamous 47-7 TCU win in 2010 when the Horned Frogs were ranked fourth and the Utes sixth. That TCU team went 13-0, won the Rose Bowl, and finished as the consensus No. 2 team in the country.
“He just did a tremendous job during his time there, and it won’t be the same without him on the sidelines there,” Whittingham said Monday after calling Patterson his good friend. “Congrats to Gary, and I’m very confident that if he wants to keep coaching, he’ll have plenty of opportunities. I just want to wish him the best and let him know I have the utmost respect for him and what he’s done in his career.”
With Patterson out in Fort Worth, Whittingham, currently in his 17th season as Utah’s head coach, is now the second-longest tenured coach in FBS. Kirk Ferentz, who took over at Iowa in 1999 and is now in his 23rd season, is No. 1.
Monday was an opportunity for Whittingham to offer some gratitude for being in one place for so long, but it was also an opportunity to remember that he will not be told to leave Utah anytime soon.
Whittingham, who will turn 62 on Nov. 21, has been given two contract extensions since March 2019, the latest one being a four-year extension that has him under contract until 2027. The latest extension, announced on Nov. 4, 2020, includes a previously agreed upon role as “special assistant to the athletics director,” whenever Whittingham decides to retire.
He has said publicly that he does not intend to coach past the age of 65.
“It lets you know that nobody’s safe, no matter what the circumstances in college football,” Whittingham said. “It’s a ruthless business in college football, and it should be, I guess. You get paid well and I’m not complaining about it, but this was an eye-opener and it came to me as a big surprise.”
Utah, Stanford received NCAA waiver for Election Day
The Utes and Cardinal were already facing short weeks with a Friday game, but the NCAA helped make sure this week wasn’t made even shorter.
In September 2020, the NCAA mandated that Division I student-athletes are given Election Day off, meaning no games and no practices. Faced with that mandate during a week with a Friday game, Whittingham said the Utah and Stanford football teams were both given waivers, allowing them to practice on Tuesday.
“We will educate our players, as well as give them an opportunity to do what they need to do with their civic engagement,” Whittingham said. “We will give them that opportunity and make sure they’re not missing out on anything because of their responsibilities here. We’re fortunate for that, because it would have been really difficult to get ready and prepare a team for a week that is short already.”
For what it’s worth, Tuesday at Utah is generally a fully padded practice, and Whittingham often notes that it is the program’s most physical day of practice over the course of a week.
Are (more) offensive line changes coming?
Starting left guard Keaton Bills was unavailable vs. UCLA due to injury. Whittingham called the third-year freshman a “game-day decision” vs. Stanford, but even when he is ready to play, Whittingham left the door open for more shifting along the line.
With Bills out, center Nick Ford kicked outside to left guard, while Paul Maile started at center. The result was 290 rushing yards vs. a Bruins defense that was giving up less than 100 per game.
“That’s something we’ll have to determine when we’re faced with it,” Whittingham said. “Right now, it’s unknown, but Nick is so talented, I think he’s played all five positions at some point since he’s been here. It’s one thing to play all five, but to play all five with the level he plays at is pretty impressive. We’ll see what happens, see who’s available, and try to put the best five out there.”
Through eight games, Utah has had six different starting offensive lines.
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Devin Lloyd named a semifinalist for Butkus, Bednarik Awards
Utah All-American linebacker Devin Lloyd on Monday was named a semifinalist for both the Bednarik and Butkus Awards. The Bednarik Award is presented by the Maxwell Club to the nation’s top defensive player, while the Butkus Award is presented by the Butkus Foundation to the nation’s top linebacker.
Lloyd, a Butkus finalist in 2020, is among 18 Bednarik semifinalists and 16 Butkus semifinalists. Finalists for both awards will be announced later this month. The Butkus Award will be handed out Dec. 7, and the Bednarik Award Dec. 9.
Lloyd leads Utah in total tackles (71), tackles for loss (14) and sacks (six) through eight games. His 1.6 tackles for loss per game leads the Pac-12 and ranks third in the FBS.
Utah-Arizona set for noon kickoff
Utah’s Nov. 13 matchup with the University of Arizona in Tucson was announced Monday morning as a noon kickoff, with the game to air on Pac-12 Networks.
The Utes playing Pac-12 games in the noon hour is a rarity, but this will be the second such occurrence this season after a Sept. 25 home win over Washington State kickoff at 12:30 p.m.
With the exception of the COVID-impacted 2020 season, Utah has never played two conference games that began in the noon hour in the same season.
Kickoff times for a high-stakes Nov. 20 showdown vs. Oregon and the Nov. 27 regular-season finale vs. Colorado are still pending.