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San Francisco • Introduced Monday afternoon as a coach with a .900 bowl game record, Kyle Whittingham offered only a modest shrug, as if his postseason track record were as nondescript as his Utah-branded polo shirts.
But make no mistake: The Utes (8-4) are proud of their 9-1 bowl history under Whittingham, and they mean to protect it Wednesday night at the Foster Farms Bowl in Levi's Stadium. Players have talked about hard practices at a time of year when many programs are winding down.
To dig up a time-worn saying: Utah trusts the process.
"It's been good having the time to play," senior end Hunter Dimick said of a team trip to Alcatraz Island. "But it's work when it's time to work."
There are two games every year that the Utes internally expect to never lose: BYU and their bowl. Last season, they were one and the same, leading to a week of smack talk and a 35-28 bowl win in which Utah clambered out to a massive lead.
This year's pep rally was mostly devoid of drama, with the two relatively unfamiliar opponents paying each other a heft of compliments. But Indiana coach Tom Allen, though he doesn't know Whittingham well, takes the threat of Utah's track record very seriously.
"You never know kids' mindsets going into bowl game with all the different dynamics," he said. "It shows you, to me, the systematic approach path you take. I've never seen him coach a day in his life, I've just seen his teams play. But you have to have that approach to get your kids grounded, stay focused on the process, and keep them from all the distractions going on."
If Utah has grim determination and a well-tooled approach, they'll be faced with upstart Indiana's plucky grit and enthusiasm. Escaping a hardscrabble Midwestern winter, Allen said of the Bay Area trip: "Our guys feel like they're on Spring Break."
Allen has stressed to his team, which he felt last year was perhaps happy just to be in a bowl, that this trip is business. The Hoosiers (6-6) kept it close in big games, but in the words of offensive lineman Dan Feeney, "sometimes we just beat ourselves."
The two teams have fallen flat in the red zone this year, both ranked outside the top 100 red zone offenses in the country. Between the programs, there's a renewed desire to finish strong both in the red zone and for the season.
"We can never forget why we're here," he said. "It's a reward for a good season, but this is not a vacation. We're coming here to win the football game."
There are some trends in Utah's favor here: Utah's last two bowl wins came against programs in coaching transition, and Allen is making his head coaching debut after leading the defense this year. Indiana hasn't won a bowl game in the last 25 years.
But the programs are trending in opposite directions: While Indiana is celebrating its first back-to-back bowl run since 1991, the Utes are shaking off their third straight disappointing November finish. The Hoosiers still can notch a win over a top-25 team. The Utes have mostly pride still to salvage.
And about the way the regular season ended are the Utes over that? They have said they that they've tried to put the disappointing finales to Oregon and Colorado to bed, but it's clear there's still some emotions trailing from it. Senior Tim Patrick said he blamed himself for Utah's woes in the red zone against the Buffaloes.
"My job is to get the offense going: If I make plays, I feel like everyone else can make plays easier," he said. "It's something I really have to focus on, make sure I fix that this week."
Several players mentioned an early lead as key, and historically that's what Utah has done. The last two first quarters of its last two bowls, the Utes have outscored opponents 56-10.
Utah has been mostly a slow-starting team this year, however: Utah has scored fewer points in the first quarter of games than any other, and the first quarter is the only quarter Utah has been outscored on the season (88-63).
"We have to come out fast," junior tackle Garett Bolles said. "On offense, we've struggled in the red zone, so we've got to hit fast and finish in the red zone. I think that's been our only problem."
When the hurt still lingers, a process helps, quarterback Troy Williams said. After time off, the team got back into its rhythm with practice, with film study, with preparation. The pain hasn't burned off, but it can directed into energy.
"It's still there a little bit, just watching that Pac-12 championship game and looking at the playoff picture this year," Williams said. "But we don't try to hone on it too much, just focus on Indiana."
If history has any merit, being in Utah's scope in a bowl is a tough place to be.
No. 19 Utah vs. Indiana
P Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
Kickoff • Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. MST
TV • Ch. 13
Radio • ESPN 700
Records • Utah (8-4); IU (6-6)
Series history • Utah leads, 2-1
Last meeting • Sept. 7, 2002 at Utah; Utah 40, Indiana 13
About the Utes • Utah's defense is tied for No. 3 nationally in takeaways with 28 total, 17 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. ... Senior running back Joe Williams averaged 148 rushing yards per game, which is good for No. 3 nationally, and has totaled 1,110 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in the six games since emerging from retirement. ... Utah is 9-1 in bowl games under Kyle Whittingham and has won 12 of its last 13 bowls dating back to 1999.
About the Hoosiers • Indiana is playing its first Pac-12 opponent since 2004, when it notched a win over Oregon. ... Senior offensive lineman Dan Feeney is the program's fourth two-time All American after making the AP's list earlier this month. ... Junior linebacker Tegray Scales leads the Big Ten in tackles (116), solo tackles (87) and tackles for a loss (20.5)