When the 2015 season came down to the final three games, the Utes couldn’t pull it together and they slipped. As a result, they tied for the Pac-12 South title, but since Utah had dropped its game to USC earlier in the season, and the Trojans were the team that Utah tied with, USC was given the crown. So instead of playing for a shot to go to the Rose Bowl, the Utes ultimately had to settle for the Las Vegas Bowl for the second year in a row.
Things seem to look the same this year. The South title could come down to Utah’s final two games against Oregon and Colorado, and it’s that Colorado squad, a team that has made virtually no noise in the Pac-12 since joining the conference with Utah five years ago, that could end up giving Utah its toughest challenge yet.
However, the Utes aren’t looking that far into the future, granted the final weekend of the season is just two weekends away. Instead, they are looking at each game as their biggest test. All the players and coaches have the same mentality that they need to be focused on the task at hand — that task now being taking down Oregon this Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Senior defensive tackle Pasoni Tasini wants to make the most out of his final season as a Ute count, so he’s taking the advice from his head coach, Kyle Whittingham, that no game is more important than the next.
“Coach Whitt says all the time, ‘We got three more Super Bowls’ so we have to play each game to our fullest and take it one game at a time,” Tasini said. “The only way we can keep things interesting is if we keep winning.”
Senior running back Joe Williams has recently returned to the fold after a brief 27-day retirement. Williams is in agreement with Tasini and he is also approaching each game as if it were the Super Bowl.
Although much of the spotlight is on Williams because of the success he has been having on the field following that retirement, he wants his team to win — it’s probably the main reason he rejoined the Utes in the first place — and that’s all that matters in the end.
“We’ll finish out the Pac-12, win [out] and get to the Pac-12 Championship,” Williams said. “Hopefully [we will] get to play Washington again, and get to the Rose Bowl.”
Whittingham will always be thankful for Williams coming back to the team in a time of need, however.
Although Whittingham didn’t think Williams would be able to handle as big of a responsibility as he is shouldering now, Williams is that go-to-guy. And even with Zack Moss back in the picture (Moss is close to being 100 percent game ready), Williams will still be that lead guy.
“I can’t put into words, but it’s meant so much to us in terms of what he’s brought back,” Whittingham said. “He’s really a great story and I’m very proud of him, and it’s great to have him back.”
But again, the Utes are focusing on closing out the season with a couple of wins. They believe they control their own destiny, and they need to make sure they are doing their part of winning games. Things didn’t quite go according to plan in 2015 — they suffered a close loss to UCLA in November last season, so they are hoping for a different ending to their 2016 season, one that includes a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game.
“We’re doing everything we can to just win now,” Whittingham said.