No. 15 Utah tries to add to Irish misery

The figures tell just how good Utah has been for a while now and

why Notre Dame’s chances of getting in a bowl might seem

remote.

No. 15 Utah comes to Notre Dame on Saturday with a glittering

21-11 record against BCS teams and coach Kyle Whittingham is 12-4

in those games. The Utes have triumphed in nine consecutive bowl

games and a victory in South Bend would give them four straight

seasons of at least nine wins under Whittingham.

The offense averages 41 points a game, has two solid running

backs and a sophomore quarterback in Jordan Wynn who has completed

65 percent of his passes. Shaky Smithson leads the nation in punt

return average with three returns of at least 70 yards this season.

And the Utes have scored on 90 percent of their trips inside the 20

this season, including 29 TDS.

So after all of that, the question is this: What the heck

happened last week against TCU? The Horned Frogs embarrassed the

Utes 47-7 on their home field, a potential season squasher if ever

there was one.

The Utes (8-1) could come out flat against the Irish after such

a deflating loss – or maybe they’ll be angry and determined to get

back to the kind of football to which they have become

accustomed.

”We got whipped and we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, and we

need to move on,” Whittingham said. ”Everyone wants to be

undefeated. When you have got it going and it gets down to the wire

and you have a chance for something special and it gets derailed,

that’s tough to swallow.”

The regrouping will come against an injury-slowed Notre Dame

team (4-5) enduring a disappointing first season under Brian Kelly.

Freshman Tommy Rees will make his first start at quarterback

Saturday for the depleted Irish, replacing Dayne Crist.

Besides Crist, Notre Dame has also lost leading rusher Armando

Allen, top tight end Kyle Rudolph and nose guard Ian Williams to

season-ending injuries. And slot receiver Theo Riddick is sidelined

for a third straight game with an ankle sprain.

Leading receiver Michael Floyd, a junior, could be joining three

dozen seniors playing their final game at Notre Dame Stadium. His

decision on whether to go pro will come later.

The Irish have lost their final home game in each of the

previous two seasons.

”That’s horrible,” said safety Harrison Smith, who has another

year of eligibility. ”Not the way you want to play your last game

at Notre Dame. That’s not the last memory you want to have. Just

seeing the hurt in some of the guys’ eyes when those games ended is

something we definitely don’t want to go through again.”

Kelly’s goal was turn the Irish back into national contenders

right away and that is going to have to wait. But if they somehow

can win two of their final three games – Army and Southern Cal are

left after Saturday’s home finale – they could make a bowl and get

the extra 15 practices.

Kelly’s message, he says, hasn’t changed.

”It’s been the same one every single day. Now when you look at

a 4-5 team the talk outside the program is ‘Hey, let’s get ready

for next year.’ I’m not ready for next year. I’m still focused on

the same thing we’ve been doing since we got here,” Kelly

said.

”We can have those extra practices and get those reps and get a

look at not only a bowl, but our future team,” said star Irish

linebacker Manti T’eo. ”So that’s definitely important.”

Coming off a bye, Te’o and his defensive mates will have to

contain Utah running backs Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide, who’ve

combined for more than 1,000 yards. TCU limited the Utes to 51

yards rushing last week.

If the Irish can’t stop the run, Wynn’s passing will be even

more effective. Wynn struggled, too, against TCU, completing only

16 of 35 passes with two interceptions. But Utah’s offensive line

has allowed only four sacks this season, so getting to him is

difficult.

Utah, which will switch to the Pac-12 next season, still has

plenty to play for.

”This is not the time to panic,” Whittingham said. ”We got

beat by a good football team, and we are still good and have the

chance to do good things by the season’s end. We still have a

chance to have an excellent season.”