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Utes ready for a bye week

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates his 100th win as head coach of Utah after an NCAA college football game against Arizona in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2016. Utah battled back from a first-half deficit to defeat Arizona 36-23.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham celebrates his 100th win as head coach of Utah after an NCAA college football game against Arizona in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 8, 2016. Utah battled back from a first-half deficit to defeat Arizona 36-23.
Nick Wagner, Nick Wagner

SALT LAKE CITY — Nine straight weeks with games comes to an end for the 16th-ranked Utah Utes. They have a bye before resuming Pac-12 play Thursday, Nov. 10 at Arizona State.

“It certainly comes at a good time. It could have come a few weeks earlier, I guess, ideally,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, who noted that the Utes are in control of their position in the Pac-12 South and are entering what is essentially a three-game season with ASU, Oregon and Colorado still left to play.

“Then the timing is very good in that respect — get rejuvenated and healed up as best we can in that time frame,” he continued. “And then come back and be ready to play a week from Thursday night.”

Injuries have taken a toll this season with 40 players (22 on offense, 18 on defense) making starts. Seventeen starters have missed games because of injuries. This week’s depth chart has free safety Marcus Williams and tight end Harrison Handley, who have missed the past two and three games, respectively, are listed as starters for the ASU game. So, too, is right guard Sam Tevi (who was injured early in last Saturday’s 31-24 loss to Washington) and wide receiver/return specialist Cory Butler-Byrd.

“A lot of it is optimistic thinking but we’ve got extra time this week and we’re hoping that we get some guys back, Whittingham said. “Way too early in the process to say definitively. But, projection-wise, that’s what we’re anticipating.”

Whittingham explained that the Utes are going to get some down time this week. They planned to evaluate film of Saturday’s game and get some conditioning and lifting in on Monday. The team will then get Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday off. Friday will be treated like a Monday as preparations for the trip to ASU accelerate.

“It comes at a good time to get some of these guys healed up, which will be big for us if we can get that done,” Whittingham said.

Quarterback Troy Williams added that it’ll be good for the team in general to get a nice little break — even if it’s just for a couple of days to get some extra sleep, extra film study, family time or whatever it may be.

“So it’s coming at a real fortunate time of the year for us,” Williams said.

Other players are looking forward to it as well.

“It’s going to be really nice. It would have been a lot nicer if we had won (Saturday) but it’s long overdue,” said safety Chase Hansen. “It’s going to be wonderful for me and I know for the rest of the guys. It’s going to be nice because everyone’s banged up, even the guys that aren’t technically hurt. Everyone’s hurting, so it’s to be awesome to hopefully feel fresh for our next game.”

Utah can win the Pac-12 South and earn the accompanying berth in the conference championship game with season-ending victories over ASU, Oregon (Nov. 19) and Colorado (Nov. 26). That’s the scenario the Utes control. They’re currently 7-2 overall and 4-2 in Pac-12 play, putting them in a tie for second with USC in the South Division — one-half game back of Colorado.

Utah is gearing up for the final stretch without five starters lost in spring ball or during the campaign with season-ending injuries — centers Hiva Lutui and J.J. Dielman, tight end Siale Fakailoatonga, defensive end Kylie Fitts and running back Armand Shyne.

Whittingham dismissed a report that Butler-Byrd, who didn’t play in the Washington game, may have a season-ending injury as well.

“No. Definitely not, unless something unforeseen happens,” Whittingham said. “We would have made that announcement if that was the case.”

Whittingham added that they’re hoping that Butler-Byrd is ready to go.

“It’s going to be nice to have that down time to really kind of recover and let your body recover,” said tight end Evan Moeai. “It came at a good time because we have these three big games coming up and I think that will be huge for us moving forward — getting some momentum going, going into the end of the year.”

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer