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Las Vegas • Many Utes traveled down the I-15 by bus, stopping in St. George at a Chick-fil-A before arriving at the gold-leaf Mandalay Bay late Tuesday, serenaded by Elvis as they walked into a team meeting.
Others drove. Freshman defensive end Wallace Gonzalez cued up a five-hour-long playlist for carmates Devontae Booker and Troy McCormick. Kaelin Clay, Tyler Cooperwood and Brandon Cox kept each other in stitches for the 400-plus miles. Senior tight end Westlee Tonga enjoyed the company of his wife, Lyndee, whom he married on Friday.
"What better way to spend the next week after your wedding than with your wife in Vegas?" said Tonga, speaking Wednesday night from a Golden Nugget casino balcony against the sensory overload of Fremont Street. He added, deadpanning: "And with 125 teammates ... I guess there is a better way."
The figurative road to Vegas wasn't always pretty requiring single score wins against UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Stanford and Colorado and nor was the drive itself.
Plus, it's still finals week at the U. Senior defensive end Nate Orchard took three exams Monday, and sophomore long snapper Chase Dominguez tweeted a photo Tuesday night of a binder, a laptop, a tablet and a Red Bull, writing "The turn up in Vegas is real tonight!"
But nonetheless, by most accounts, it has been an exciting first two days for the Utes.
After practicing at the ritzy, college-style facilities at Bishop Gorman High School on Wednesday afternoon, the team ate steaks with Saturday's opponent on Fremont Street, then took in The Strip from 550 feet, atop The LINQ's High Roller Ferris Wheel. Thursday night, they were scheduled to watch Criss Angel's "Believe" at the Luxor.
And they've got a game to be excited about, too.
Records in reach • Booker met John White IV on a recruiting trip. He knows what kind of a back White was in 2011, when he ran for 1,519 yards and led the Utes to a Sun Bowl victory. And he wants his record.
Booker needs 169 yards to snap White's single-season school record, and given that the Rams have conceded 188 per game, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll get them.
Clay said Wednesday that while victory is his top priority, he admits he has his eye on a fourth punt return touchdown for sole possession of Utah's single-season record (he's currently tied with Baltimore Ravens wideout Steve Smith) and a tie with Steve Odom for the career mark.
And Orchard, having already set Utah's single-season sacks record (currently 17.5), is three shy of John Frank's four-year tally.
Told Wednesday that Utah, despite leading the nation, is 25 sacks short of the 1981 school team record of 77 (very likely the result of dubious stat-keeping) Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said, "I highly doubt I don't know what the Vegas odds are on us breaking that record, but they can't be very good."
Asked if that made him re-evaluate this year's success, he joked: "I thought we were pretty good, but maybe not."
The other guys • All 125 eligible players on Utah's roster made the trip to Vegas, and it the bowl practices have given coaches the opportunity to evaluate guys who get few reps during the regular season.
Wednesday, Whittingham pointed to a few standouts on the so-called developmental team: UCLA transfer defensive end Kylie Fitts, freshman running back Monte Seabrook, freshman quarterback Donovan Isom, redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Cox, Wyoming transfer quarterback Jason Thompson, sophomore walk-on tight end Ken Hampel, and freshman cornerback Casey Hughes.
"There have been about a dozen guys that have demonstrated to us that they're going to be able to help us soon," Whittingham said.
Utah's injured players are along for the ride, too. Senior wideout Dres Anderson, junior quarterback Kendal Thompson and junior wideout Tim Patrick have all been spotted walking without crutches after sustaining season-ending leg injuries.
Anderson, who plans to participate in Senior Bowl, but likely not as a player, said he's not sure about the timetable for his return to action.
Thompson believes that he will be able to run drills and do some seven-on-seven work this spring, although he doesn't believe he'll be 100 percent.
Las Vegas Bowl
Utah vs. Colorado St.
Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • Ch. 4