Final exams are completed, and for the University of Utah, preparations for the Rose Bowl are fully underway.
The Utes held another practice Monday afternoon, with just 12 days until kickoff against Ohio State on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
“We’re inside of two weeks. The intensity started to pick up. Finals are over. It’s all football going forward,” said coach Kyle Whittingham. “We’re 12 days out. So we’re starting to get that intensity and focus.”
Running back T.J. Pledger said preparations for the bowl game are “going great. We’re fired up and guys are flying around. We’re getting after it.”
Wide receiver/kick return specialist Britain Covey loves seeing his teammates get ready for this game.
“Everybody is realizing that this is our week to prepare mentally. Because when you get to the bowl site, there are so many activities going on and you’re busy all the time,” he said. “This week, everybody is ramping up the film study, the mental preparation. It’s cool to see guys treat this differently than just any bowl game. Coach tells us to get on the line and run gassers for the second time in one practice and no one’s complaining because they know how big of a deal it is.”
Center Nick Ford said the Utes are approaching this game like they have the previous 13 this season, including the Pac-12 championship game.
“We have the same focus that we did against Oregon,” he said. “We’re not going to get too loose or too tense. We’re right in the spot where we need to be both physically and mentally.”
Whittingham said the game plan against the Buckeyes has been installed.
“The game plan is in on both sides of the ball and special teams,” he said. “They’ve been exposed to all of it. These next two weeks is just polishing it up and fine-tuning it.”
“We’re inside of two weeks. The intensity started to pick up. Finals are over. It’s all football going forward,” — Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham
By the time Utah lines up against OSU, it will be almost a month since it last played a game, that 38-10 drubbing of the Ducks at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
How are the Utes staying sharp despite such a big gap between games?
“We take it back to the basics. We look at the season and things that we need to work on and get better at,” Pledger said. “We attack that. There’s some rest in there too, getting back to 100% to be ready for (Jan. 1).”
Quarterback Cam Rising said the key is “just keeping the momentum on our side, making sure we keep this team rolling and going in the right direction.”
Last Friday, Gov. Spencer Cox attended Utah’s practice and declared Jan. 1, 2022, as University of Utah Football Pac-12 Champions Day in honor of the team.
“We are proud of what we’ve shown this state — whether it’s resilience or battling adversity,” Covey said. “There’s a sense of pride around this team that we’ve banded together at the lowest of lows. We helped people see that. That’s pretty cool.”
Whittingham has had a strong, positive feeling about his team before the season began.
What makes Whittingham so confident going into the Rose Bowl is “the work ethic and the consistency they’ve played with all season. The confidence they played with all season. That’s been our strength — coming ready to play week-in and week-out for the last several weeks. At the beginning of the year we had some struggles but since then we’ve been very consistent. It’s a confident group that has great leadership.”