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Available to media for the first time since Utah accepted an invitation to play BYU in the now-sold-out Las Vegas Bowl, Kyle Whittingham spoke for almost six minutes Tuesday without mentioning Utah's opponent by name.
No, he said, he hasn't seen much tape of Utah's opponent yet. No, he doesn't remember the last time he saw Bronco Mendenhall. No, there is no go-to topic that the two head coaches discuss when they see each other. No, Mendenhall's pending move to Virginia will not be a factor on the field.
But Whittingham did allow that he felt "surprise" to learn that his 9-3 Utes will spend a second straight postseason in Las Vegas when he and most bowl prognosticators, for that matter thought Utah would be selected by a bowl higher in the Pac-12 pecking order.
"We had the best record in the South, overall, and the second-best record in the conference overall were tied with Oregon but we beat them head-to-head so that being the case, and then being in the sixth bowl, that was, that was unique," he said. "So we'll leave it at that, I guess."
Whittingham said the team had at least learned that Vegas was one of few possibilities by Selection Sunday.
"It was just how the cards unfolded," he said.
Still, echoing the thoughts of teammates at Sunday's post-announcement press conference, players Tuesday said they were excited to get a crack at the Cougars the first, for many of them. Less than a quarter of Utah's players saw action in the rivalry's last installment, Whittingham estimated.
Co-offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said he entered the facility Monday ready to energize players who might be downtrodden after having hoped to play Wisconsin or Miami in later bowls, but found "a lot of juice and energy."
Continued Roderick: "I'm more worried about calming them down than getting them excited."
Utes on the mend
A key difference between the Utes who started 6-0 and the Utes who finished 3-3 was apparent from a glance at the sideline.
Junior defensive end Hunter Dimick, senior wideout Kenneth Scott and true freshman wideout/return specialist Britain Covey are among a half-dozen players who spent part of Utah's stretch run in street clothes.
A later bowl date, Whittingham admitted, "would have helped us a lot" on the injury front.
"But we'll see," he said. "It's going to be really close on three or four of those guys."
Covey did not practice but told media afterward that he "wouldn't miss this game for the world."
Utah's leading receiver, Covey plans to embark on a two-year LDS mission after the season. He doesn't believe playing through his ankle injury will jeopardize his mission readiness, he said, adding, "I've got two years to heal."
Utah's offensive struggles became more pronounced after Covey's departure against UCLA, when the former Timpview signal caller also took a few snaps as a wildcat quarterback.
"We have not been the most explosive offense all year, but he was one of our most explosive players, and when we lost him, it showed," Roderick said.
Injuries have also led Utah to take a consider a new role for senior backup quarterback Kendal Thompson, who stayed after Tuesday's practice to work on route-running and pass-catching.
Roderick said they're scouring the roster for downfield targets against what he feels is an "underrated" BYU passing defense.
In Thompson's case, "quarterbacks understand the passing game and they know how they want routes to be run," Roderick said. He cautioned that no position decisions are final yet.
Phillips mulls future
Utah's all-time leading field goal kicker may not return for his senior season, The Tribune has learned, and is currently weighing his options.
Andy Phillips has gone 63-for-75 as a Ute, records for both makes and attempts, is 4-for-4 from 50-plus yards and hit 22 of his final 24 kicks this season after opening 1-for-3 against Michigan. He was named first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014 and is a three-time Lou Groza Award semifinalist.
But the former U.S. Ski Team member is 26, a married father, and there may be little he can do to further his professional football ambitions outside of NFL team workouts.
Utah will lose No. 2 kicker Jon Halliday to graduation. The only other kicker on the current roster is freshman Hayes Hicken, from Highland High. Highly rated Bingham kicker Chayden Johnston, part of Utah's 2015 class, is serving an LDS mission.