With designs on title, Utah wary of Oregon
EUGENE — Kyle Whittingham isn't worried his team will look past Oregon toward a potential championship game for the Pac-12 Conference South Division the following week.
"That game won't decide the division if we don't win this week," the Utah coach said Tuesday morning. "And it's Oregon. Even though they have had some bumps in the road, it is still a top-notch program with good players at a bunch of different positions."
No. 11 Utah (8-2) is third in the Pac-12 South at 5-2 as it prepares to host Oregon (3-7, 1-6) Saturday at 11 a.m. If the Utes beat the Ducks and win at Colorado on Nov. 26, they would be assured of at least tying for the title at 7-2 and would advance to the Pac-12 title game based on tiebreaker wins over the Buffs and USC.
"Our seniors are a real determined group and we know right now we control our own destiny, but we have tough games ahead," Whittingham said. "It has definitely been a topic of conversation because we have not necessarily finished the last couple times we were in this situation, so we want to get that turned around. We are in the hunt again, but we were not able to get over the hump that last time we were in this position."
Utah shared the South title with USC last season, but the Trojans beat the Utes to claim the title.
"All of our attention now is on Oregon," Whittingham said. "In our Monday team meeting, we talk about the big picture and let guys know where we stand. They look at the standings and then once that meeting is over, all the noise is put aside and we have tunnel-vision for our opponent. They know exactly where we stand and the scenario and exactly what we need to do. They all have the right mindset."
Utah's road to finishing tied for first in the South last year began with a 62-20 win over Oregon at Autzen Stadium. The Ducks were ranked No. 13 in the nation at the time, but have gone 10-10 since that game.
"Offensively, they are still very potent," Whittingham said. "They are moving the football and scoring points. They lead the conference in rushing so they look like past teams from that standpoint. They have had some struggles on defense and trouble stopping the run, but they have got talent. The bottom line is they have got players. They have speed and athleticism so they have got our attention, no doubt about it. And it is Oregon, so what more do you need to say."
Whittingham has been impressed while scouting freshman quarterback Justin Herbert.
"He's an excellent player, no question about it," he said. "He seems to be growing as he gains experience and his playing time has increased. He is doing a nice job."