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Kyle Whittingham referred to his team's loss at Cal this weekend as "a setback, not a dream-killer."
This week finds the No. 24 Utes (4-1, 1-1) attempting to maintain their dreams against the one Pac-12 coach Whittingham has yet to beat in conference play.
Utah hosts Arizona (2-3, 0-2) on Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and the Wildcats' Rich Rodriguez has had the Utes' number for four straight meetings. The defeats range from the 42-10 blowout Arizona laid down in its last visit to Salt Lake City, to the 37-30 double overtime in Tucson last year that were serious blows to the Utes' South Division hopes.
Coming off a loss this weekend, Whittingham said getting over it is key. Quarterback Troy Williams was downcast in Utah's Monday news conference, saying he wished he could get a second shot at the incompletion he threw on the second-to-last play, but said he was working on getting past his disappointment Williams was undefeated last year at Santa Monica College, so the Cal game was his first loss since 2014 at Washington.
"Just gotta move on, go into this practice week with juice and motivation," he said. "Don't let the loss linger on, but let it put fire into you, be upset about it and take it out on Arizona this week."
The Utes are still hoping to win the division, and to move forward they'll look to crash through the last-place team in the South. Arizona is coming off a 45-24 loss to UCLA on the road, only a week after dragging top-10 foe Washington to overtime. The Wildcats boast the No. 2 rushing offense in the conference (246 yards per game), but have struggled elsewhere, particularly on defense.
Whittingham beat Rodriguez when he coached Michigan in 2008. Since then, the Wildcats have been an unsolvable puzzle. Utah did its best job defending the run last year in Tucson (158 yards), but still fell short in extra time. Whittingham compared it to defending Air Force's run game: The Wildcats spread opponents out, and force them to make quick reads.
"Structurally, there's only so much you can do with the spread, there's not a lot of adjustments you can make inside the box," he said. "We've just gotta do a better job of playing assignment-sound football."
Utah was bedraggled by injuries against Cal, playing without defensive tackle Lowell Lotulelei and receiver Cory Butler-Byrd from the start. The Utes also lost receiver Tim Patrick, center J.J. Dielman, cornerback Reggie Porter and receiver Kyle Fulks during the game.
Shortly after Whittingham's press conference, the Utes announced that Dielman was lost for the season with a lower leg injury. The team captain and returning all-conference honoree is Utah's second center to suffer a season-ending injury this year following an offseason injury to Hiva Lutui.
That leaves center duties in the hands of junior Lo Falemaka, who had some shaky moments against Cal, but settled down in his first significant time at the position.
Whittingham didn't offer any other updates on injured players.
Arizona is similarly banged up: The team is on its fourth-string quarterback after Anu Solomon and Brandon Dawkins have been hurt. Freshman passer Khalil Tate finished against UCLA, going 5 for 9 with 72 yards and two touchdown passes, while also rushing for 79 yards.
"He's a big, strong kid who can run and throw," Whittingham said. "But there's a lot unsettled at the QB position for them."
If there's a silver lining for Utah, it's that getting back atop the South standings is attainable: Utah is tied for second place with both UCLA and Arizona State at 1-1 this week. Surprising contender Colorado, ranked this week for the first time since 2005, is ahead of the competition with a 2-0 record against the Oregon schools, but faces a tough matchup at USC on Saturday.
Arizona at No. 24 Utah
P Saturday, 8 p.m. TV • Fox Sports 1