Utes ready to begin quest for first Pac-12 championship

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The quest for their first Pac-12 title begins on Friday.

After three blowouts to open the season, the 10th-ranked Utes football team appears to be ready to make a run at a conference championship.

“The first three games were kind of just tune-up games going into what is really important, which is conference,” said linebacker Francis Bernard. “There is a little bit more stress and a lot more riding on this game and all the games going forward.”

“I think we’re in the position we expected to be and did exactly what we had hoped, which was to go 3-0,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “Now we’ve got to go down to the Coliseum this week.”

That’s a place Utah has never won. In fact their last win over USC in L.A. was 1916 — 103 years ago. Since then, Utah is 0-8 in Southern California against the Trojans. But that is a streak that doesn’t really concern Whittingham.

“I guess everyone is entitled to a bad century,” he said. “This game, fortunately, in our opinion, has nothing to do with the past 100-plus years. It’s its own entity, it’s a new challenge. History hasn’t been good to us in that place, but we don’t feel it has any bearing on this year.”

Seeing what BYU just did to USC Saturday in Provo, and knowing they had their way with the Cougars in the season opener, the Utes are confident they can end that losing streak at the Coliseum.

“BYU is a physical team,” said running back Zack Moss. “We’re going to try to come out there and do the same thing. We’re a physical team as well. So, we’re going to be as physical as we can with them, and somewhere down the line, they’ll lay down. We have a little bit more firepower on offense. But it’s going to be a very good game on Friday. I mean, they don’t want to lose to two Utah teams, that’s for sure.”

Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley is off to a fantastic start. He is completing almost 78 percent of his passes, has yet to throw an interception, and hasn’t been sacked once.

“He has done a nice job all year having pocket awareness,” Whittingham said. “He senses the rush and feeling it, and getting himself out of some jams. Not only to get out of a jam and run, but he has also gotten out of some jams and found open receivers.”

Receivers like like Bryan Thompson, who has overcome some injuries, and just caught his first two career touchdown passes Saturday against Idaho State.

“It felt really good,” Thompson said. “I went through a tough two years, so it was fun to finally get on that field and do everything I was supposed to do.”

“We genuinely have so many weapons and different ways that we can beat people,” said wide receiver Britain Covey. “It’s almost like the ball can’t be spread around enough, and it makes it exciting.”

Utah also hopes to get starting offensive linemen Johnny Maea and Orlando Umana back from injury.

“We hope so,” Whittingham said. “We were hoping that last week, and they just weren’t quite ready. But another week of healing, and hopefully we’ll get those guys back.”

The Utes and Trojans will kick off at 7:00 p.m. Friday night at the Coliseum.

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