Utah Utes mailbag: Has this Utah football team made you a believer in divine intervention?

Plus: Utah’s injured secondary vs. Ohio State receivers, life on the Utah beat, Pasadena food recommendations, and more

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Donna Lowe-Stern, mother of Aaron Lowe who was shot and killed in September, served as an honorary captain for the coin toss at the start of the University of Utah game against the Oregon Ducks for the 2021 Pac12 Football Championship at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Dec 3, 2021.

The University of Utah will play in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 against Ohio State, so let’s start with the Granddaddy of Them All.

As always if you have a question for the Utah Utes mailbag, you can fire off a tweet to @Joshua_Newman, slide into my DMs, email me at jnewman@sltrib.com, or even leave a comment at the bottom of this story.

Q: “Is divine intervention in sports a real thing? Did this Utah football team make you a believer?” - @coreyc04

A: I don’t believe in divine intervention in sports. I don’t do karma, nor do I believe there is such a thing as a “team of destiny.”

All of that said, there has been something special about this Utah football team, and it did not all have to do with how everyone rallied around each other in the days and weeks following Aaron Lowe’s death.

To be clear, Kyle Whittingham and the leadership on the roster steered this program forward in the wake of tragedy, and none of us on the outside, me included, will ever have a full understanding or appreciation for how hard that must have been.

But from the moment Cam Rising entered at San Diego State, it felt like a switch flipped for everyone and everything. His emergence, set against the backdrop of #ThiccBoi7 gaining a cult-like appreciation, felt significant. Winning at USC felt significant, beating Arizona State in the first home game after Lowe’s death and taking control of the Pac-12 South felt significant, and every game after that, no matter the opponent, felt like there were legitimate high stakes attached.

Every game, whether it was Arizona or Oregon (twice), felt like an event and, with the exception of coughing up the game at Oregon State, Utah answered the bell every week for two months. All gas, no brakes, every Saturday (sometimes Friday), looking like a Power Five contender.

So, has this Utah team made me a believer in divine intervention? No, but I will exit this football season after the Rose Bowl very much convinced that I covered more than just your average football team.

Q: “How’s Utah going to handle OSU’s prolific passing offense with three of their top-five corners injured? Any chance any one of them will return by Jan 1? Who’s next in line and is he ready?” - @bowlingjonas

A: Great question. When you figure it out, let me know.

Indications are Zemaiah Vaughn is done for the season after he tweeted Monday morning that he had surgery following an injury Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game.

Vaughn was playing in place of Faybian Marks, who was lost for the season at Arizona after playing in 10 games and starting seven. Marks played a starring role after All-Pac-12 cornerback JT Broughton was lost for the season at BYU on Sept. 11. Honestly, nice job this by cornerbacks coach Sharrieff Shah, because that position did not have a lot of depth or experience.

Without Broughton, Marks and Vaughn, whoever starts at cornerback opposite Clark Phillips III at the Rose Bowl is going to be very, very green. Elisha Lloyd has not registered a collegiate snap, LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson has played in six games this season, but mostly on special teams, and Caine Savage’s seven games have also been on special teams.

From a readiness and experience standpoint, none of those options are great, but the good news is that Shah and defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley have the rest of this month to figure it out. Marks and Vaughn were pressed into duty with far less time to adapt.

Ohio State wide receivers Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave have combined for 215 catches, 3,253 yards and 31 touchdowns. Olave is 64 receiving yards shy of joining Smith-Njigba and Wilson with 1,000 for the season.

Q: “With fans all frantically trying to figure out logistics for the Rose Bowl, what’s life like on the beat? Do you get to kick back and not think about it? Do you get a nice Marriott suite? Bunk with Furlong? Is there any planning stress for you? - @GreenAlexSLC

A: I will not be bunking with KSL’s Josh Furlong. Good dude, but no.

I haven’t kicked back in a very long time now, and there won’t be any of that this month given the magnitude of what’s happening the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

The logistical end of things isn’t a big deal. This isn’t my first rodeo.

There is stress in planning coverage, yes, because this ain’t the Independence Bowl. This is the Rose Bowl, it is Utah’s first trip there, and who knows the next time the Utes, or I for that matter, will get there. We need to crush this. That’s the only option. Even the best-laid coverage plans will get altered by something or someone, so I know that going in. Need to be willing/able to adjust on the fly.

As for advice, the one thing I must stress is to avoid LAX. Fly into Burbank. Smaller airport, rental car facility on site, easier to navigate, way less nonsense.

Me? I’ll be flying into LAX because the media hotel is in LA, as are a bunch of media-related activities. Tough deal for me, but it is what it is.

Q: “What are the can’t-miss restaurants between here and Pasedena and around Pasadena that are must do?” - @SarcasmFTW_

A: Between here and Pasadena? Do I look like AAA? Are you driving there? Understandable to save a little scratch, but that’s a real haul.

There is a place called Lucky Boy, which has two locations in Pasadena. It’s essentially a burger joint with a good selection of other things, but the reason I bring this place up first is because the breakfast burritos are outstanding. They’re also huge and served all day, but most of all outstanding.

If memory serves, the Lucky Boy on South Arroyo Parkway is roughly 10 minutes from the Rose Bowl.

One other place that stood out across a few trips to Pasadena in the last few years is Russell’s, which is a breakfast joint. I’m a breakfast guy. Don’t be afraid to do a Bellini at Russell’s. After all, you’re on pseudo-vacation.

Q: “What’s the status on Marco? Any chance he plays tomorrow night?” – @torgy4three

A: Marco Anthony has not played since spraining his ankle Nov. 21 vs. Tulsa. That’s been a problem because Anthony is a veteran guy and probably Craig Smith’s best, most-capable perimeter defender.

Indications are Anthony is getting close, and while his status for Wednesday vs. TCU is officially TBD, he is not being ruled out, which is a positive sign.

I’ve been consistent on this: At full strength, with Anthony, Dusan Mahorcic, and Gabe Madsen, I like this group. These Utes won’t blow your hair back, but there’s enough there for Craig Smith to work with. Utah’s 6-2 start has been mostly positive, with Wednesday being an interesting non-conference test against a Power Five team on a semi-neutral floor at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth.

Q: “I’m heading to New York City (Lower Manhattan, Upper East Side, North Brooklyn) for four days later this week. What are the 3-5 biggest food-related MUSTS?” - @dtosborn11

A: A quick list of 24 places was put together in conjunction with Mrs. Utah Utes mailbag and one of her high-brow friends from back east. They both know the vibes, but my name is on this thing, so I have final say. In no particular order ...

• Bagels and Co., 1428 York Avenue: This place doesn’t usually hit the “best bagels in NYC” lists, but that’s fine. Keep it a secret, because it’s awesome. The thing about Bagels and Co. is that it also does pizza, which is weird, but trust me. Do the pizza, which uses the bagel dough for the crust.

• JG Melon, 1291 3rd Avenue: Laidback bar known for two things, being cash-only and good burgers. Affordable by New York City standards, but either way, worth it.

• Nom Wah Tea Parlor, 13 Doyers Street: A touch out of the way, but worth going out of the way and worth waiting for a table if you’re into dim sum.

• Emmy Squared, 1426 3rd Avenue: Eclectic sitdown pizza spot, specializing in, you guessed it, square pies. More specifically, Detroit-style pizza. It’s heavy, but it’s solid. Very solid.

• Prince Street Pizza, 27 Prince Street A: I’ll finish this by playing one of the greatest hits. Known for their square pies, but go for the Neapolitan pie/slice instead. Worth the trip for the decor/ambiance alone.