Goodbye, bye: It’s back to the gridiron for football team

U head coach Kyle Whittingham stayed in Salt Lake City last week, along with his two coordinators, Andy Ludwig and Gary Andersen. The rest of the coaching staff, however, flew out to various parts of the country to get caught up in recruiting, leaving Whittingham with what he called a “skeleton crew” to run practice Wednesday and Thursday afternoons.

Last week was a bit different from usual for the U football team, as it finally reached its bye week after a trying first two months of the season.

The team set very specific goals going into the week, not the least of which was getting healthy after enduring a few key injuries in the preceding weeks.

“Our bumps and bruises are for the most part healed up,” Whittingham said. “We stayed sharp, and we had seven of our (coaches) go out on the road recruiting, so we got caught up on recruiting, and I think it was a productive bye week.”

The players finally got to spend an entire weekend away from the field, without the “bumps and bruises” of a typical Saturday evening. Instead of taking hits, Brian Johnson played the role of armchair quarterback, for once, rather than Ute quarterback.

“We got to watch some good games on Saturday and Sunday, just relax and have a good time and get rested,” Johnson said. “But it was fun just getting to watch football. It was nice having some time off, relaxing and getting your body ready.”

Quinton Ganther, fresh off one of his best games of the season, a 155-yard performance in the Utes’ 42-32 win over UNLV, didn’t get quite as much time to relax during his week off.

“My bye week was spent doing a whole lot of homework, just trying to catch up on the homework I was missing out on,” Ganther said. “We didn’t really get a chance to rest like I wanted to rest. But the hits-it felt better not taking those.”

But the bye week is over. While last week featured three shortened practices and a three-day weekend, it’s back to business as usual for the Utes.

“I think we did a nice job coming out and getting the work done we had to get done last week. We did some conditioning and just tried to stay sharp,” Johnson said. “Now we’ve just got to focus on this week and go out there and try to get a win.”

The coaches are back from their various recruiting visits, and the team must turn its focus to the Wyoming Cowboys-who come to town for a Saturday afternoon tilt-and closing out the season with a flurry of pivotal victories.

Should the Utes win their final three games-which will be a tough task in and of itself-they expect to play in a bowl game come wintertime.

“If we are able to get to that magic number seven, I think that’ll do it. I don’t think anything else will matter,” Whittingham said. “If we can just find a way to get to seven, but we’ve got to get to No. 5 before we can think about Nos. 6 and 7.”

Travis LaTendresse, who has been hobbled by a severe ankle sprain since the Utes’ loss to Colorado State, still isn’t 100 percent, Whittingham said, but the team hopes he can recover well enough to play Saturday.

For the most part, however, the team healed rather nicely during the bye week and is ready to go for its final chunk of the season. “You need everybody-all your soldiers ready to go,” Ganther said. “If they’re all ready to play, then that gives you a better chance at winning ballgames.”

[email protected]