SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—One of the newer T-shirts Utah faithful have worn since joining the Pac-12 proclaims “envy the past, fear the future.”
That’s exactly where the original BCS buster finds itself after going bust so far in conference play, with No. 22 Arizona State up next.
When the schedule was announced, many thought Saturday’s game might be for the South Division championship.
“We’ve got to get a South Division win first,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said, while acknowledging the South title was the initial goal. “We knew it would be competitive. I don’t know if people thought we were going to come in and take their Pac-12 by storm and walk through it. That is not reality. This is a good conference. It’s going to take time.”
The Utes (2-2, 0-2) don’t have that luxury now as they are in the meat of their schedule. After ASU (4-1, 2-0), they travel to Pitt, then Cal.
“Obviously, if you lose your quarterback, it’ll hurt you a little bit,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said.
But he said the Utes have a physical defense that can cause problems.
“They’re probably the biggest front we’ve played,” Erickson said. “To me, going up there is going to be difficult, so we have to find a way to play on the road and win some football games on the road.”
ASU is just 3-9 in its last 12 road games, including a 17-14 loss at Illinois this season.
While Utah hopes its top offensive lineman, tackle Tony Bergstrom, will be back in the starting lineup after missing the Washington game because of a leg injury, the Sun Devils suffered a major blow because of an injury to starting left tackle Evan Finkenberg. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee and likely is out 3-4 weeks.
The latest injures add to the string of bad breaks for ASU, which already lost impact players such as cornerback Omar Bolden, receiver T.J. Simpson, linebacker Brandon Magee and defensive end Junior Onyeali.
The Sun Devils, however, still have the advantage when it comes to quarterback, starting with size. At 6-foot-8, junior Brock Osweiler is the tallest QB among FBS teams.
Osweiler has completed 68 percent of his passes and is averaging 270.4 yards a game, with 10 TDs and six interceptions. He can throw the deep ball but also takes advantage of swing passes to keep the chains moving.
“He gets the ball out of his hand exceptionally quick, to his playmakers and in space,” Whittingham said, noting players such as Kyle Middlebrooks and Jamal Miles are perfect for ASU’s offensive scheme. “They’ve got a lot of weapons. They spread you out, get the ball to playmakers and in open space. That’s a dangerous combination.”
Utah QB Hays, meanwhile, hasn’t started a game since November when he was playing for Butte College, the same junior college that produced Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.
“There’s not time to pout or think what could have been,” said Utah tight end Dallin Rogers, who caught a TD pass from Hays last week in the 31-14 loss to Washington. “With Jon Hays back there, we’re comfortable with him. He’s a great quarterback and a great leader.”
Whittingham said it’s simply time to fight through more adversity.
“That’s the point we’re at now,” he said. “The sky is not falling. We’re 2-2. It’s not like we’re sitting here 0-4 and can’t score points and can’t stop anybody. We’ve done some good things this season.”
But will the Utes have to switch back to that spoiler role they played so often when they were looking to gain respect as a Mountain West Conference team?
“It seems like we always have some type of chip on our shoulder,” said Utah fullback Luke Matthews, who is particularly motivated this week since he grew up in the Phoenix area. “If that’s how we have to be, then that’s how it’s got to be.”