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Utah football: Utes reach the midway point on a roll

Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) celebrates after the Utes won 42-10 over the Arizona Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.
Utah Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley (1) celebrates after the Utes won 42-10 over the Arizona Wildcats at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018.
Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After knocking off Pac-12 foes Stanford and Arizona by a combined score of 82-31 over the past two weeks, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham rewarded the Utes with a couple of days off. They were given a break Saturday and Sunday to heal some bumps and bruises.

“They deserve it. They’ve earned it,” Whittingham said. “A day of rest is often times as good as a day of work, especially at the midpoint of the season. They could really use the down time, in our estimation.”

The Utes enter the halfway mark with a 4-2 record. More importantly, they’re 2-2 in the Pac-12 after the back-to-back victories and back in the South Division title chase.

“We were able to take another step forward,” Whittingham said. “And we’ve got to be real good next week because there’s a really good team coming in here.”

Utah faces USC Saturday (6 p.m., P12N) at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Trojans (4-2, 3-1) are coming off a 31-20 win over Colorado (5-1, 2-1). The outcome gave the Buffaloes their first Pac-12 loss, thus, tightening the race. The Utes are currently in third place, just one game out of the lead with five to play.

Whittingham noted that they have their backs to the wall every week. As such, he offered an unusual outcome when asked to predict the USC-Colorado game.

“Who should I want? It’s tricky. Either way,” Whittingham said. “If they could both get losses, that would be awesome, but anyway I’ll just be interested in watching it because obviously they’re both on our schedule.”

After Friday’s 42-10 win over Arizona, Utah’s remaining Pac-12 slate includes home games against USC and Oregon, as well as road dates with UCLA, Arizona State and Colorado.

It’s the tail-end of a conference schedule that began with losses to Washington (21-7) and Washington State (28-24).

“I don’t think we ever really lost confidence. We just felt like we lost some games that maybe we should have won. I mean, you can say that a lot,” said senior linebacker Chase Hansen. “But ultimately we just felt like we had to really show people what we were capable of. We kind of felt like we didn’t play our best football yet and I still don’t think we have. But we’ll keep getting better.”

VERSATILE COVEY: Friday’s win over Arizona proved to be a throwback, of sorts, for receiver Britain Covey. The former Timpview High quarterback enjoyed throwing and completing two passes for the Utes, including a 58-yard touchdown toss to Tyler Huntley.

“It was great. I love it,” Covey said. “I’m going to be pushing for a quarterback package in the next couple of weeks. No, I’m just kidding.”

Whittingham, though, is quite serious about the possibility.

“It’s an idea. We’ve thought about that,” Whittingham said. “He’s a tremendous player and we are going to use him in a multitude of ways.”

WISHNOWSKY’S RUN: Whittingham explained why senior punter Mitch Wishnowsky opted to run instead of punt midway through the fourth quarter when the Utes were up 35-10. The senior gained 28 yards before being forced out of bounds. Arizona was then penalized for a horse-collar tackle. Junior running back Armand Shyne covered the remaining 22 yards on the next play for a touchdown with 6:14 to go.

“The best run, I thought tonight, was Mitch Wishnowsky. It was pretty impressive. And just for the record, that’s not called a fake punt. That’s just built into the scheme. I’ve said that many times,” Whittingham said. “When we rugby-punt, when we roll out, if they don’t cover correctly, it is the green light every single time. So that wasn’t a matter of gamesmanship or anything like that, it was just Mitch doing what he was supposed to do in that situation.”

Wishnowsky is 2-for-2 in such circumstances this season.

EXTRA POINTS: Whittingham expects to have starting center Lo Falemaka back this week. The senior captain has missed the past two games with a leg injury. … Utah is 30-37 in Pac-12 play since joining the conference in 2011. … The Utes have had a quarterback pass, run and catch for a touchdown in a game for the second straight year. Troy Williams did it last season against USC. … Redshirt freshman receiver Jaylen Dixon has six career receptions, four of which have netted 35 yards or more, including a 39-yard catch against Arizona.

USC (4-2, 3-1) at Utah (4-2, 2-2)

  • Rice-Eccles Stadium
  • Saturday, 6 p.m.
  • TV: Pac-12 Networks
  • Radio: ESPN 700AM