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During season of ups and downs, here’s how the Utes kept their eye on the prize

Utah is looking to capture a Pac-12 South title and they’ll take another step toward that goal if they can beat 1-8 Arizona

SHARE During season of ups and downs, here’s how the Utes kept their eye on the prize
Utah running back Tavion Thomas (9) scores against Stanford in Stanford, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Utah running back Tavion Thomas (9) scores against Stanford in Stanford, Calif., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021. Thomas, like the Utes, has experienced some ups and downs this season, but is hitting his stride as the season heads down the home stretch.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

TUCSON, Ariz. — Pretty much everything is looking sunny for Utah football these days. 

The Utes have won five of their last six games, they lead the Pac-12 South, and they entered the College Football Playoff rankings this week for the first time this season, landing at No. 24.

Utah, Arizona TV

Utes on the air


Utah (6-3, 5-1)

at Arizona (1-8, 1-5)

Saturday, Noon MST

Arizona Stadium

TV: Pac-12 Network

Radio: ESPN 700


Last Friday, Utah turned in its most impressive performance of the year by smashing Stanford 52-7.

There’s even the possibility that everything could come up Roses for the Utes on New Year’s Day.

For now, Utah is in sun-drenched Tucson to visit last-place Arizona Saturday (noon MST, Pac-12 Network).

Certainly, the Utes (6-3, 5-1) have experienced some dark times this season, including a 1-2 start.

But the way they are dealing with all of the praise is similar to how they’ve dealt with all the adversity from earlier this year — by staying focused.

“We learned how to block out the noise the hard way,” said wide receiver Solomon Enis. “At the beginning of the season, a lot of people counted us out when we went through our little rut. We had to lean on each other and we had each other’s backs. That’s prepared us for what we’re doing, all the success that we’re having right now. Those moments when we were so low and everybody counted us out, we just leaned on each other.”

It’s human nature to become complacent on the heels of so much success. And Utah is facing a struggling Arizona (1-8, 1-5) program that just snapped a 20-game losing streak. 

Not to mention, next Saturday, Utah hosts Oregon, which leads the Pac-12 North and is ranked No. 3 this week in the CFP rankings. 

Coach Kyle Whittingham has addressed the complacency issue with his team this week. 

“I know that the group we have here has great leadership. They’ll handle it just like they have the past several weeks,” he said. “We’re settled into our routine. It’s just rinse and repeat. Every week, you start over and do the same thing.”

Tight end Brant Kuithe said his team isn’t worried about rankings or standings.

“We just focus on the next game,” he said. “We do have it in our minds but we don’t want to keep it clouded by taking our foot off the gas because we’re in first place.”

Whittingham said his team isn’t feeling the pressure of being in sole possession of first place of the Pac-12 South. 

“I don’t personally feel it and I don’t think our players do. There’s no indication that they’ve felt it. We never even talk about it in meetings,” he said. “We just say that we’re in good position. That’s as close to talking about the standings as we come. We just know that the key to everything is that we control our destiny. That’s the main thing. We are able to control our destiny and not rely on anybody else.”

Running back T.J. Pledger said the goal remains the same, to win a Pac-12 title, and that still hasn’t been accomplished.

“We’re trying to focus on us,” he said. “Dominate championship November. That’s our motto right now. Staying focused is one of our reasons for success.”

Utah’s offense is averaging 38.5 points and 465.8 yards in their last six games.

The Ute defense is also figuring things out and has been clamping down on opponents.

“I think everyone was just playing assignment sound football,” linebacker Devin Lloyd said after the Stanford game. “We pride ourselves on playing hard every time we’re on the field, so I think that’s something our team does a great job of doing as far as technique and doing our assignment properly. I think we did a really good job of that.”

Of Utah’s three losses this season, one came against BYU (No. 14 in the CFP rankings) and one came against San Diego State (No. 22 in the CFP rankings). 

Next week, the Utes will have an opportunity to knock off a top-10 opponent. But right now, they say it’s all about lowly Arizona. 

Enis, who hails from Phoenix, has been looking forward to this matchup with the Wildcats.

“I think it will be fun. I know it’s going to be hotter than it is up (in Salt Lake City),” he said. “I’m going back to see my family; I’ve got to get a lot of tickets. I’m excited for it. I love going back to Arizona. It’s always hot. Going back, playing under Arizona sun, seeing my family, it’s always good.”

Enis just wants to see consistency from his team on Saturday.

“I know (offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig) is going to have a good scheme for us,” he said. “We’re not really changing who we are. We’re going to in there and play dominant football like we have been playing.”