Kyle Whittingham is Utah’s all-time winningest coach. Here’s a look back at 5 of his most memorable victories
After 142 wins, the most in Utah football history, here are five of the most memorable wins coached by Kyle Whittingham
After beating No. 3 Oregon at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Saturday to clinch the Pac-12 South title, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham stands alone.
Whittingham is Utah’s all-time winningest coach, having won 142 games over his 17-year head coaching career to pass Ike Armstrong.
Prior to being named head coach in 2005, Whittingham spent 11 years as an assistant coach at Utah, starting as a defensive line coach in 1994 before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 1995, a position he held until he became head coach.
Whittingham is currently the second-longest tenured head coach in college football and has provided the Utes with great consistency. Some of his accolades:
- He has coached the Utes to victory in two BCS bowls, including a 13-0 perfect season in 2008.
- He was named the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year in 2008 and the Pac-12 Coach of the Year in 2019.
- His 11-3 bowl record is one of the best among active coaches.
- Whittingham, as an assistant coach and head coach, has sent 99 players to the NFL.
- Utah is one of eight schools (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU, Notre Dame and Georgia are the others) to be ranked 30 or more weeks in the College Football Playoff rankings.
After 142 wins, here are five of the most memorable games coached by Whittingham.
2005 Fiesta Bowl: No. 6 Utah 35, No. 21 Pittsburgh 7
Whittingham’s first win as Utah head coach came in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl against Pittsburgh. Whittingham and Urban Meyer, who left to become Florida’s head coach after the season, were co-head coaches for the game.
The Utes capped off a perfect 12-0 season and became the first team from a nonautomatic qualifying conference to bust the BCS by beating Pittsburgh soundly in front of 73,519 fans in Tempe, most of whom were wearing red.
Utah entered the game a 16-point favorite and looked it, besting the 8-3 Panthers — who earned a trip by winning a share of the Big East championship — in all facets of the game.
Led by quarterback and 2005 No. 1 NFL draft pick Alex Smith, who threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 68 yards, the Utes steamrolled the Panthers.
Parris Warren broke a Fiesta Bowl record with 15 receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns. His 15 receptions still stand as the most in Fiesta Bowl history.
Utah sacked Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko a Fiesta Bowl-record nine times, which still stands to this day.
Tommy Hackenbruck had three sacks, tied for first all time in Fiesta Bowl history.
The most memorable play of the night came on a hook-and-ladder. Smith passed to Steve Savoy, who pitched the ball backward to Warren, who ran for a touchdown.
The Fiesta Bowl win was a perfect end to a perfect season for the Utes.
2008: No. 8 Utah 13, No. 12 TCU 10
The stage was set for one of the biggest games in Utah football history.
After beginning the season with a win at Michigan and producing heart-stopping, close wins against Air Force and Oregon State, the Utes were 9-0 and No. 8 in the BCS rankings, facing No. 12 TCU in the school’s first-ever blackout game.
Quarterback Andy Dalton and the Horned Frogs jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and Utah’s offense sputtered all night.
Kicker Louie Sakoda made a 49-yard field goal for the Utes’ first points, then a 37-yard field goal to end the first half after Sean Smith returned an interception to the TCU 43-yard line.
Utah trailed 10-6 at halftime.
Both defenses held strong in the second half, forcing six straight punts to start. With just over five minutes in the fourth quarter, TCU drove down to Utah’s 9-yard line but couldn’t convert on third down.
Normally reliable Horned Frogs kicker Ross Evans’ 26-yard field goal bounced off the left upright, but Utah’s ensuing drive went nowhere, and the Utes were forced to punt.
Sakoda’s punt went off the side of his foot and gave TCU great field position at the 50-yard line.
TCU moved the ball to the Utah 18-yard line and had to settle for another field goal with 2:48 to play. If Evans made his 35-yard field goal, it would put TCU up seven.
Evans missed it right. It started to feel like Utah was destined to win.
Down by four with just under three minutes remaining, Utah quarterback Brian Johnson engineered a nine-play, 80-yard drive, converting a fourth-and-5 along the way.
Johnson hit Freddie Brown on a slant route for the go-ahead touchdown with 47 seconds left, causing Rice-Eccles Stadium to go into a frenzy that caused the press box to shake.
2009 Sugar Bowl: No. 6 Utah 31, No. 4 Alabama 17
Though Utah entered the game with a perfect 12-0 record with wins over No. 11 TCU and No. 16 BYU, it was an underdog against Alabama.
The Crimson Tide had a perfect regular season, losing only in the SEC championship game against Urban Meyer’s Florida Gators, who would win the national championship that year.
No one in the national media thought the little school from the Mountain West had a chance against the SEC power.
Then, Utah shocked the country.
The Utes went no-huddle on their first offensive series, going 68 yards on five plays, culminating in a Brian Johnson to Brent Casteel touchdown to put Utah up 7-0.
Robert Johnson intercepted Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson on the next drive, and Utah went up 14-0 after a 30-yard pass from Brian Johnson to David Reed set up a Matt Asiata touchdown run.
The Utes forced the Crimson Tide to punt again, then Utah scored another touchdown on a 18-yard Johnson pass to Bradon Godfrey.
Utah led 21-0, and there was still four minutes left in the first quarter.
Alabama would score 17 straight points to cut Utah’s lead to four points in the third quarter, but the Utes responded with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to David Reed.
Utah held Alabama scoreless the rest of the way.
Johnson threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns, and Robert Johnson had two interceptions.
The best win in Utah football history capped a 13-0 season. The Utes finished the year ranked No. 2 in The Associated Press poll.
2015: No. 18 Utah 62, No. 13 Oregon 20
Utah handed Oregon its worst home loss since 1977 and scored the most points ever by an opposing team at Oregon, demolishing the Ducks 62-20 in a top 20 matchup.
Travis Wilson threw for 227 yards and four touchdowns and also rushed for 100 yards and a score.
Devontae Booker added 98 yards on the ground.
The game was tied 6-6 in the first quarter before the Utes’ offensive onslaught started. Utah outscored Oregon 49-7 over the next two quarters in one of the most astonishing performances in team history.
Utah gained over 530 yards of total offense, and its defense also had a great game, intercepting Oregon quarterback Jeff Lockie two times and forcing a fumble.
You name it, it was working for Utah.
A 60-yard run by Wilson? Check.
A 25-yard touchdown pass from Booker to Britain Covey? Check.
A high snap that punter Tom Hackett barely corralled, then ran it 33 yards for a first down? Check.
A punt return in which Covey pretended to field the ball, drawing Oregon players and the camera to him, only for Boobie Hobbs to actually field the punt and return it for a touchdown? Check.
It was a masterpiece of a game plan from Whittingham.
The win vaulted Utah from No. 18 to No. 5 in the AP rankings.
2021: No. 23 Utah 38, No. 3 Oregon 7
It’s only fitting that Whittingham’s record-setting 142nd win was one of the most memorable.
Utah dominated No. 3 Oregon in a high-stakes game, clinching the Pac-12 South title and knocking the Ducks out of playoff contention.
At No. 3, Oregon is the highest-ranked team that Utah has beaten.
Two months ago, with Utah sitting at 1-2 following nonconference losses to BYU and San Diego State, it was hard to imagine the Utes winning the division.
Then major tragedy struck the program for the second time in less than a year.
The Utah football program lost two teammates, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, in a span of nine months.
The murder of Lowe came after Utah’s win against Washington State on Sep. 25. After grieving the loss of Jordan in December 2020, the Utah football program had to bury a teammate, a friend, a brother — again.
When you consider how incredibly difficult this season has been for these players and this coaching staff, it only makes what they’ve done this season even more remarkable.
Utah has won seven of eight Pac-12 games, as everything clicked at the right time.
The Utes found a leader in quarterback Cam Rising, a star running back in Tavion Thomas and the offensive line gelled.
Tight ends Brant Kuithe and Dalton Kincaid, plus receivers such as Britain Covey and Devaugh Vele, have shined.
Utah’s offense turned into one of the best in the conference, scoring 38.4 points per Pac-12 contest.
The defense, led by linebacker Devin Lloyd, who chose to come back for his senior season, started coming together as well.
The unit, as the season has gone on, has developed into one of the best in the Pac-12, led by Lloyd, fellow linebacker Nephi Sewell, cornerback Clark Phillips III and defensive end Mika Tafua.
Everything the Utes had been working on this season came together on Saturday, as Rising commanded the offense, Thomas broke the school record for rushing touchdowns in a season with three against Oregon, the offensive line pushed around the Ducks’ defensive front and Kuithe had five catches for 118 yards.
The Utes’ defense sacked Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown three times, made him uncomfortable and held Oregon’s vaunted rushing attacked to just 63 yards, with Lloyd and freshman Cole Bishop leading the charge.
Bishop had seven tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups and a blocked field goal.
Lloyd had six tackles, a tackle for loss and a big hit on Travis Dye on third down. Junior Tafuna had 1.5 sacks and Tafua had a sack.
Utah’s special teams unit came through with its best game of the year, as Bishop blocked a field goal and Covey returned a Ducks punt 78 yards for a touchdown at the end of the second quarter to put Utah up 28-0.
Utah punched its ticket to its third Pac-12 Championship Game in four years, and it did it in one of the most memorable games in program history.