There are a couple of things Utah coach Kyle Whittingham would like to see happen as the Utes prepare to face Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl, Dec. 23 in Fort Worth, Texas.
For starters, Whittingham wants the offense to continue to be as efficient as it has been over the last five games. He'd also like to see his team continue playing with the passion and emotion it has in recent weeks.
In addition, Whittingham is eager to see the Utes prepare like they always do for bowl games and not lose their edge.
There's no shortage, obviously, of story lines concerning the game:
1. TAKING ON TULSA
The Golden Hurricane sport a solid offense and one of the nation's top pass defenses.
Junior quarterback Paul Smith, the 2005 Liberty Bowl MVP, has completed 65.9 percent of his throws and has 15 career touchdown passes. Tulsa's defense has held seven opponents to less than 300 yards of offense this season. Junior linebacker Kendrick Alexander, who has 267 tackles in his career, headlines a defense thanks ranked sixth nationally against the pass.
2. SHOOTING FOR SIX:
The Utes enter the Armed Forces Bowl on a roll. They've won five consecutive bowl games. The streak began with a pair of victories in the Las Vegas Bowl — 17-16 over Fresno State in 1999 and 10-6 over Southern California two years later.
Then came the current run of appearances. Since 2003, Utah has defeated Southern Mississippi in the Liberty Bowl 17-0; Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl 35-0; and Georgia Tech in the Emerald Bowl 38-10.
The run of victories has upped the Utes' overall bowl record to 8-4.
3. CAN THE UTES BOUNCE BACK?
Though it remains to be seen what kind of toll, if any, Utah's emotional 33-31 loss to BYU will take, Whittingham thinks the calendar is beneficial. Playing the Cougars after Thanksgiving and Tulsa before Christmas leaves little time to dwell on things.
"It does compact our practice schedule a bit, however, so we won't take a week off of practice the way
we normally do when the bowl is after Christmas," Whittingham said. "Getting back on the field is probably the best therapy right now anyway, after that heartbreaker last week."
4. INCREASED EXPOSURE
The lack of television exposure because of the well-publicized distribution problems involving The mtn. could be offset by a bowl appearance on ESPN. The location of the game is another recruiting benefit.
"We're excited about the opportunity to play in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl," Whittingham said. "We have several players on our team from the state of Texas and it will be a chance for them to play in front of friends and family. We also have made Texas a priority in our recruiting, so this will give our recruits an opportunity to see us first hand.
5. BOWL ENCORE
Can quarterback Brett Ratliff and defensive back Eric Weddle repeat last year's bowl performances? The seniors will be hard-pressed to meet and/or exceed their efforts in San Francisco a year ago.
Ratliff completed 30 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns in the victory over Georgia Tech, establishing Emerald Bowl and school bowl records in each category.
Weddle earned Emerald Bowl defensive MVP honors after holding all-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson to just two catches.