SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – With nearly full month between the winning its first Pac-12 Championship and the Rose Bowl, the Utes football team is getting healthy and staying sharp.
“It’s nice in that your bodies get to recover for the whole team,” said quarterback Cam Rising. “We just get to take advantage of it, watch extra film and be comfortable and ready for the game once it comes.”
“A bowl prep is almost the equivalent of spring ball,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “You get about 15 practices in, you get extra work with your developmental guys. So, it’s definitely a big plus.”
This Utah team has played in some big games this season, including a 38-10 romp past Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. But the Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of them all against one of the best teams in the country in front of some 100,000 fans. How will they not let the moment overwhelm them?
“I don’t think it will overwhelm them,” Whittingham said. “We’ve played in some big games this year on some national broadcasts that have been really important. They’ve handled themselves perfectly. My guess is we’ll react and not be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the game.”
“It is the granddaddy of all bowl games,” added Rising. “It doesn’t really get much bigger than it. I’m excited for it. It’s something I’ve always dreamed of playing in.”
“Just understanding the moment is not too big,” said Southern California native TJ Pledger. “We’ve been here before. It’s a regular game. Yes, it’s a very good opponent, but we believe in ourselves and are confident in ourselves. We came this far and we’re ready to play.”
Record-setting running back Tavion Thomas grew up in Ohio, so this game is especially big for him to go against his hometown team.
“I’ve watched Ohio State since I was little,” said Thomas, who scored 20 rushing touchdowns this season. “They’ve always been a great team and it’s going to be a great game for us. I know a few boys up there. I haven’t talked to them yet, I’m going to wait until after the game. I’m trying to focus on this game.”
There is no question Ohio State is the name brand in this game. Afterall, this is the 16th Rose Bowl appearance for the Buckeyes. But making its Rose Bowl debut, Utah is embracing the underdog role.
“I think we’re a name brand too,” said tight end Brant Kuithe. “We just won the Pac-12. We’re Utah and nobody really kind of respects us or understands that we play football out here. But it’s great, and we’re just excited to play the game.”
Kyle Whittingham was 10-1 in bowl games before losing the last two to Northwester in the Holiday Bowl in 2018 and to Texas in the Alamo Bowl in 2019. It’s not a coincidence, though, that those two defeats were after Pac-12 championship game losses. This time may be different.
“I would say there was a little bit of a hangover,” Whittingham said. “We weren’t quite as sharp as we have been in those two games than in years past. Hopefully we can get back to our brand of football in the postseason.”