No, no, no they haven’t.
The Utes have NOT “arrived” … whatever that means.
Wherever they’re going, they’re not there yet.
So said head coach Kyle Whittingham late Saturday night/Sunday morning, a little while after seeing his No. 19-ranked Utes take down No. 20 USC, 24-21, at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Beating a team like USC – nationally ranked, super talented and perhaps flirting with a return to past glory – is indeed a big deal. It’s a huge deal, actually.
It’s the kind of thing that ought to be celebrated and long remembered, for just its impact on this season but for its historical significance as well.
It’s the kind of things that tells the world you’ve arrived.
Oh wait, no it’s not.
“No, you’ve never arrived,” Whittingham said. “We don’t feel we’ve ever arrived. As soon as we get that situation then someone’s gonna smack you.”
So far this season the Utes, who now stand at 6-1, bowl eligible and riding high in the Pac-12’s South Division, have beaten some of college football’s most storied programs.
Southern Cal? Check.
It’s too bad they won’t see Notre Dame or Oklahoma; Ohio State or Alabama this year.
At this point, Utah seems confident enough to take on any of them. Beating them, of course, would be something else completely. But in terms of confidence, they’re not afraid of anyone.
They’re not afraid, but they’re not content, either. They haven’t arrived as one of the Pac-12’s elite teams, much less one of the country’s.
Beating both UCLA and USC in the same year, well, that’s a pretty big deal. It’s a SoCal sweep and surely it will help Utah’s recruiting efforts in that area going forward. But ever pragmatic – ever the coach – Whittingham preached sensibility over celebration.
“It’s very gratifying to get a win against (the Trojans),” he said. “Year in and year out they’re probably the most talented team in the conference. For recruiting? Every win helps recruiting. Recruiting is the lifeblood of your program and the best thing to boost recruiting and get kids interested is winning football games.”
Well, the Utes have definitely won some football games.
On Saturday, they did it in dazzling fashion. They dictated much of the game and turned it into a defensive struggle. USC quarterback Cody Kessler threw a school-record seven TDs to beat Colorado last week. But there was none of that this time. Instead, the game was a slugfest with Utah pounding out 137 yards rushing compared to an even 100 for Tailback U.
Kessler had a pair of TDs and threw for 264 yards but the Trojans failed to pick up a game-sealing fourth down in the final minutes.
And when the Utes got the ball back, up-and-down quarterback Travis Wilson rose to the occasion and led his team on a furious late rally. Wilson himself keyed the drive with a pass completion to Kenneth Scott and a 19-yard tuck-and-run to USC’s 1 yard line in the final minute.
He capped things off with a rollout TD pass to Kaelin Clay with just eight seconds remaining.
“We knew we were going to score,” Wilson said plainly, confidently.
Judging from the way they beat Oregon State last week and USC on Saturday, the Utes have rebounded nicely from their sloppy loss to Washington State earlier this month. Were it not for that, Utah would be undefeated and no doubt in the top 10 nationally.
Instead, they’re rolling along at 6-1. They’re happy, humble, focused and confident as they look forward to the remainder of their season.
But have the arrived?
Of course not as if Whittingham has anything to do with it, they never will.
Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @StandardExJimbo