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Sizing up the Pac-12 race after the Utes' bye week

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham complains about a call  in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. Washington won 31-24.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham complains about a call in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016. Washington won 31-24.
Jeffrey D. Allred,

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah gained some and lost some over its bye week.

The latter came in the form of USC’s 45-20 win over Oregon. The outcome technically knocked the Utes (7-2, 4-2) down to third place in the Pac-12 South — one-half game behind the Trojans (6-3, 5-2). The gap with division-leading Colorado (7-2, 5-1) grew as well. The Buffaloes defeated UCLA 20-10 on Thursday.


Pac-12 standing


PointAfter | GraphiqDespite the movement, Utah is still in control of its own situation. The Utes are guaranteed a berth in next month’s Pac-12 Championship Game with season-ending victories over Arizona State, Oregon and Colorado.

As the chase enters its final three weeks, the Utes have moved up in both major polls. They’re 12th in the latest coaches rankings and 13th in the Associated Press Top 25.

Last week, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said the Utes were making incremental progress. They moved up a spot in the AP poll despite dropping a 31-24 decision to fourth-ranked Washington.

“We feel like we’ve taken steps forward every year since we’ve been in the league,” Whittingham said. “I think that is just another indicator that we have continued to progress as a program, and hopefully we continue on that path and on that trend.”

The next step on the field comes Thursday at ASU (7:30 p.m., FS1). That’s when the Utes can get the bad taste of the Oct. 29 loss to the Huskies out of their system.

“There was a lot of disappointment and frustration. No one was hanging their head or feeling sorry and it was more a sense of anger,” Whittingham said of the postgame scene in the locker room. “We still control our own destiny and have done a lot of positive things.”

Utah’s two setbacks this season (California, Washington) have come by a combined total of 12 points. Whittingham doesn’t necessarily look at it as being two plays away from being undefeated, however.

“There’s a few plays we made that got us wins at the end,” he said. “I think that all probably evens out in the big picture.”

Speaking of which, Utah enters the final stretch with hopes of regaining some health over the bye week. Whittingham also expressed a desire to get more out of the throw game. The Utes are averaging just 212.4 yards in the air and have a pass efficiency rating of 121.76. After the Washington game, they ranked ninth in the Pac-12 in both categories

Whittingham said the problem isn’t on one area or facet.

“It’s a combination of everybody that’s involved,” he explained.

Possible solutions, Whittingham acknowledged, may include giving quarterback Troy Williams more opportunities to get some early completions with quick-game calls or simply by dialing up more throws.

Fewer drops, he added, would obviously improve accuracy.

Williams vows the offense will continue to try to improve and stay on track.

“Hopefully (we can) make a huge improvement over these next couple of weeks,” Williams said.

Reducing pre-snap penalties is another are being targeted. Williams noted the importance of being more focused and dialed in, because it can affect the team mentally.

That stuff, Whittignham said, has to be eliminated down the stretch.

*****

Pac-12 South race

COLORADO (5-1): at Arizona (Nov. 12), Washington State (No. 19), Utah (Nov. 26).

USC (5-2): at Washington (Nov. 12), at UCLA (No. 19).

UTAH (4-1): at Arizona State (Nov. 10), vs. Oregon (Nov. 19), at Colorado (No. 26).

Email: dirk@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @DirkFacer