Kyle Whittingham will remain silent on injuries as Utah-Oregon approaches

Is Saturday’s Utah-Oregon matchup, a potential preview of the Pac-12 championship game, more than just another game?

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) hugs Utah Utes offensive lineman Nick Ford (55) as the University of Utah hosts the UCLA Bruins in Pac-12 football, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The University of Utah absorbed injuries to three starters over the weekend during its win at Arizona, offensive linemen Nick Ford and Paul Maile, and cornerback Faybian Marks.

As the 24th-ranked Utes prepare for a high-stakes matchup with No. 3 Oregon, Kyle Whittingham on Monday declined to address the severity of those injuries.

Utah’s head coach not addressing injuries is the norm, although he will announce season-ending injuries when they occur. But Whittingham would not say if any of those three guys are out for the season, so much of this will remain up for debate until warmups begin on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

“No more injury talk, even with season-ending, because now that we’re a week or two away (from the regular-season ending), it doesn’t make any sense to tip the opponent at all,” Whittingham said Monday morning. “We hope for the best, but there will be no injury updates for the rest of the season. That is consistent with how we’ve operated the last several years once we get to the end.

“We hope to have more people available this week than we did last week. We’ll see.”

Ford and Maile were both hurt late in the game, a 38-29 win in which the Utes went 75 yards in 15 plays across 8:24 on their final drive, capped by TJ Pledger’s 2-yard touchdown run.

Ford appeared to injure his hamstring, but during a radio interview on Monday morning, he clarified what happened, and it had nothing to do with an injury.

“I’m all good, I just had really bad cramps,” Ford said. “I have a really bad sinus infection and I’m on a [lot] of medication. Some of that medication will make you dehydrated. On that last drive, when we hit that quarterback sneak, my hamstring started to cramp. Next play, it was my calf. Play after that, it was my stomach. I just had to finish that drive before anything else.”

Ford indicated during the interview that he will play versus Oregon.

Maile was seen on crutches as the game ended. Over the last three weeks, with left guard Keaton Bills unavailable, Ford has kicked outside from center to left guard, with Maile starting at center. If either cannot play vs. Oregon, Bills, who was active at Arizona, is a safe bet to step into one of those spots.

Marks, a second-year freshman who has started seven games this season after the early-season loss of All-Pac-12 cornerback JT Broughton, came up lame in the first quarter. He did not return and could later be seen with crutches and a boot on his right foot.

Another second-year freshman, Zemaiah Vaughn, came on in place of Marks and would likely start vs. Oregon if Marks cannot go.

Is this more than just another game?

Whittingham on Monday balked at the notion that this game, which will air on ABC with an East Coast prime-time kickoff of 5:30 p.m. MST, is bigger than any other regular-season contest.

“Nope, they’re all the same, we treat them all the same,” Whittingham said. “We prepare the same exact way. Meeting structure, practice structure, everything. That’s how you have to do it in the Pac-12, because if you don’t, you’ll get beat if you’re not ready. We approach it the exact same way every single week.”

The winner of this game between the North-leading Ducks and South-leading Utes will secure a spot in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3. Furthermore in regard to the big picture, Oregon and Utah are on track to play each other in the Pac-12 championship game, which would mean two meetings in 13 days.

For the Ducks to land in the College Football Playoff, they need to win out, which obviously means taking both meetings with Utah. Theoretically, there is a road to the Rose Bowl for Utah without winning the Pac-12, but that would include losing both Oregon games.