As the calendar flips to November, despite a rough September, Utah is in a very good place.
That would be first place.
The Utes (5-3, 4-1) are all alone on top of the standings in the Pac-12 South and in control of their own destiny after thumping UCLA 44-24 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah’s goal of winning a Pac-12 championship is still within its grasp, but there’s a new challenge on the horizon this week.
The Utes are taking a trip to the West Coast to face Stanford Friday (8:30 p.m., MDT, FS1) at Stanford Stadium.
“It’s a short week, going to Stanford. We’ve got a short week combined with a road trip,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “It’s what the schedule says so we don’t worry or complain about that. We’ve just got to manage it. We’ve got a blueprint for it, a protocol.”
Utah is 1-3 on the road this season, with its lone victory away from home coming against USC on Oct. 9.
The Cardinal is coming off a 20-13 setback at home against Washington last Saturday night. Quarterback Dylan Morris threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Jalen McMillan with 21 seconds left to propel the Huskies past Stanford.
The Cardinal (3-5, 2-4) is on a three-game losing streak since upsetting then-No. 3 Oregon in early October.
“Not the way we wanted to come out after the bye,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Honestly (we) played defense good the entire game, but once again it comes down to two minutes and we couldn’t get the stop to end the game. That’s how you lose.”
Stanford trailed most of the game before scoring 10 points in the fourth quarter to take a short-lived lead.
Utah, meanwhile, bounced back in fine fashion against UCLA after suffering a 42-34 loss at Oregon State the week before.
The Utes rushed for 290 yards, led by Tavion Thomas’ 24-carry, 160-yard, four touchdown performance.
Whittingham praised the effort of the offensive line for opening up holes for the running backs.
“We’re starting to control the line of scrimmage better,” he said.
The Utes have experienced a shakeup on the O-line in recent weeks, partly due to injuries. On Saturday, Paul Maile played at center and center Nick Ford was moved to left guard.
Whittingham was pleased with the results.
“Keaton Bills was not available. He was one of those (injured) guys we tried to get back,” Whittingham said. “Paul Maile came in and did a really nice job. He had a couple of errant snaps that were tough for (quarterback) Cam (Rising) to handle. Other than that, he did a really nice job. Nick Ford did a nice job at left guard.”
The Utes got better inside the red zone compared to the week before in a loss at Oregon State.
“Much improved,” Whittingham said. “We worked hard on it all week. We work on it every week. It was a particular point of emphasis this past week. We had more physicality down there and you saw that (Saturday). That was our objective.”
Whittingham also liked how his defense performed. Against Oregon State, the Utes surrendered 260 yards rushing. UCLA, which ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in rushing offense, was held to just 146 yards.
“Very much improved. They’d been averaging a lot more than that,” Whittingham said. “(UCLA coach) Chip Kelly is a heckuva offensive coach. His basis for everything is the run game — that’s where it starts for him.”
Utes on the air
Utah (5-3, 4-1)
at Stanford (3-5, 2-4)
Friday, 8:30 p.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700
Whittingham was happy that the defense limited the Bruins to just 4 of 16 on third-down conversion attempts, but he was disappointed that UCLA was 7 of 9 on fourth-down conversions.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd was held out of the first half Saturday because he was whistled for targeting in the second half against Oregon State.
Whittingham said the reason why, when the Utes won the coin toss before the game, they decided to take the ball.
“When we win the (coin) toss, almost exclusively we defer, but we took the ball because we knew it would give us one more series with Devin (in the second half) that we wouldn’t have had,” Whittingham said. “The offense went right down the field. That’s the reason why we didn’t defer.”
On its opening possession, Utah drove 75 yards in nine plays and 3:34 off the clock to take an early 7-0 lead over UCLA. The Utes led 28-10 at halftime and never trailed in the game.
This week, Utah is seeking to find similar success on the road.