Football notebook: California Dreamin’

By By Cody Brunner

By Cody Brunner

Injury situation

For the fifth year in a row, the Utes have been accepted to a bowl. Unfortunately for a few ailing players on the Utah football team, the Poinsettia Bowl is the first postseason bowl game of the year.

Defensive tackle Gabe Long is listed as questionable against Navy after injuring his shoulder against BYU on Nov. 24. Long has been key to the Utes’ run-stopping resurgence this season, recording 35 tackles, four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.

Navy is ranked first in the nation in rushing yards per game (350.1) and does the majority of its damage between the tackles, where Long usually resides.

“We obviously hope to have a guy like him back, but it is nothing certain as of right now,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Preseason All-MWC offensive tackle Jason Boone was also rumored to possibly return for a bowl game, but the early date for the Poinsettia Bowl (Dec. 20) has all but nixed those plans.

For a number of other Utes, the gap between games will be what the doctor ordered. Senior outside linebacker Malakai Mokofisi is expected to be fully recovered from a calf injury that kept him out of the last two games of the regular season. Tight end Matt Simms and middle linebacker Joe Jiannoni have battled injuries all season long and will benefit from the time off.

Utah quarterback Brian Johnson took last week off to nurse a shoulder injury that has bothered him all season long but is expected to return to practice this week.

“This time off will be huge for some of us that have been nursing injuries for a while,” Johnson said.

On a bowl roll

Dating back to 1999, the Utes have the second-longest bowl win streak in the nation at six games. They also boast the best bowl win percentage in the country at 75 percent.

Utah has knocked off Fresno State, USC, Southern Miss, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Tulsa en route to school-record six-game bowl winning streak.

“We don’t dwell on it, but it’s definitely something our guys are proud of,” Whittingham said. “Our fifth-year seniors are in a situation where they’re playing in five straight bowl games, and that’s pretty impressive.”

So, what exactly is Utah’s big secret?

“I think the last couple years, we’ve just been really focused and used the preparation time wisely,” Johnson said. “Our coaches use the time to work up a good game plan, and the players have plenty of time to practice executing.”

Rest and relaxation or film and preparation?

College coaches vary greatly in the way they prepare for postseason games. Take, for instance, Utah and Navy.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has erred on the side of safety the past week-and-a-half, practicing three times a week. One of the practices is even abbreviated so that the coaches can recruit and the players can rest themselves. The Utes will pick up a couple practices next week before getting back into a normal game preparation schedule.

Navy head coach Paul Johnson, on the other hand, has decided to give his team this entire week off to deal with final examinations. The Midshipmen played their final regular season game last Saturday, and Johnson said the time off will pay more dividends than any amount of preparation would yield.

“It’s just getting to a point where they need to rest their bodies,” Johnson said. “We play later into the year than most schools, so our guys need to rest more than anything.”

Johnson said the Midshipmen will practice “nine or 10 times to prepare for Utah.”

What do you think, coach?

After one of the most tumultuous college football seasons in history, the regular season ended in a fitting way last Saturday, with the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation falling.

The fallout from the games left an already ailing BCS system in shambles, scrambling to find the best two teams in college football. When the smoke cleared and all of the ballots were cast, Ohio State and Louisiana State were slated for the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7.

Utah’s Whittingham and Navy’s Johnson had no problem voicing their displeasure when asked about the current state of college football.

“It needs to be decided on the field in a playoff structure, and the sooner we get to that, the better, as far as I’m concerned,” Whittingham said. “With every other level of football having a playoff system, why not Division-I football?”

Johnson agreed.

“It’s nuts,” he said. “It’s just crazy. They need a playoff to determine the winner.”

Mountain West accolades

Utah’s “Sweet” Louie Sakoda was named the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year for the second straight year on Tuesday, leading a host of Utah players who received conference awards.

Joining Sakoda on the MWC first-team were senior defensive lineman Martail Burnett and senior defensive back Steve Tate.

Utah placed six players on the second team. Earning honors were junior running back Darrell Mack, junior offensive lineman Robert Conley, sophomore offensive lineman Zane Beadles, senior defensive tackle Gabe Long and junior defensive back Brice McCain. Senior punt returner Derrek Richards was the league’s second-team return specialist.

Richards was also one of four Utes on the MWC Honorable Mention list. Joining him were sophomore defensive back Robert Johnson, freshman defensive lineman Paul Kruger and sophomore linebacker Stevenson Sylvester.

Air Force running back Chad Hall was named the MWC Offensive Player of the Year while UNLV linebacker Beau Bell received Defensive Player of the Year honors.

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Tyler Cobb

Louie Sakoda was one of three Ute named to the All-MWC first team.