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
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
”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
”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
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.”