In one final opportunity to end the 2016 season on a high note, the Utah football team will be taking on the Indiana Hoosiers in the Foster Farms Bowl on Wednesday Dec. 28 in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Utes ended the regular season on a bit of a sour note after losing three of its final four games. Utah would drop its senior day game to the Oregon Ducks, 30-28, when the team was still fighting for a chance to play in the Pac-12 Championship game. The Utes then went on to lose the regular season finale to the Colorado Buffaloes, 27-22 (the Buffs eventually lost to College Football Playoff contender Washington in the Pac-12 title game).
Indiana on the other hand ended its season on a high note. Sitting with a 5-6 record heading into their final game of the regular season against in-state foe Purdue, the Hoosiers were playing with bowl aspirations on the line, and they beat the Boilermakers by just two points, 26-24.
One concerning issue for the Utes the entire 12 games of the regular season was its struggles in the red zone. More often than not, the team would get fairly close to the goal line, but it had difficulty punching it in, and the Utes would have to settle for a field goal. And as much as head coach Kyle Whittingham trusts kicker Andy Phillips to get the job done, he would rather get a touchdown.
And with a winning history in bowl games, Whittingham is confident his team will be on the same page.
“Our guys have no problem getting motivated, because it’s a chance to win another game,” Whittingham said. “It’s a reward for a good season, but a chance to notch another victory. Any success that we have had is due to our players buying in, and in order to win a game you got to prepare just like you do in the regular season.”
The Utes will be without starting cornerback Dominique Hatfield. The senior and captain will be sidelined for the game for reasons Whittingham cites as violating team rules. However, Whittingham says Hatfield being sidelined has nothing to do with legal issues.
Troy Williams is hoping to be at full strength come game time on Wednesday evening. The junior quarterback mentioned about a week ago that he suffered an MCL sprain against USC — the team’s fourth game of the season, first game of conference play — and that’s a big reason why he did not run as often as he could have. Going a month without any competition though has helped him get back on track, and he wants to make sure the team goes out on top.
“We want to build some momentum going into next year, but we’re focusing on sending the seniors out right, and cherishing every moment that we get with them,” Williams said.
And the entire Ute squad is hoping for the same, too.
The Utes did not end the season the way they pictured they would do so, and they are eager to rectify that in the bowl game, because if there is one thing that Whittingham-led squads do is that they often perform well in bowl games. And Joe Williams wants fans to remember one thing amidst his brief retirement before returning to help the team in a time of need.
“Regardless of everything, I’m a Ute ‘til I die,” Joe Williams said. “I’m always going to be a Utah man, and I appreciate all the support from my family and friends, and the fans. And I love playing here.”
Game time is set for 5:30 PT.