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Utes Football in control for division crown, but realize a lot left to play

FILE - Utah Utes linebacker Chase Hansen pulls in an interception with Utah Utes defensive back Javelin K. Guidry and USC Trojans wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown at bottom and left during NCAA football in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

PASADENA, Calif. – The Utes Football team is making a visit to the Rose Bowl Stadium Friday night to take on UCLA and the squad wants to take care of business because it would like to come back January 1st for the Rose Bowl.

That bowl game traditionally features a Pac-12 and Big Ten matchup, but the Utes will have to win the conference title to participate. They first have to take care of its own regular season schedule and win its division in the Pac-12 South to earn a berth in the conference championship game.

“I think in terms of just the standings alone, it’s good to feel like we’re in control,” said senior linebacker Chase Hansen. “As long as we play our best ball, beat UCLA this week and go from there, then it’s kind of in our hand. So it’s always a good feeling to have.”

The Utes Football program has always been known for its stingy defense and special team play. However, the offense has been seeing a lot of success in the last few weeks. It has put up over 1,400 yards in total offense and scored 123 points in the last three games. In September quarterback Tyler Huntley had a 107.3 passer rating. He has a 197.6 passer rating in October so far.

Adding to the recent success Huntley, Hansen and kicker Matt Gay were all named Pac-12 players of the week. However, the team does not want to overlook anybody.

“We are just barely over the halfway point in the season, so there is still a lot of ball left to play,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We have a lot of challenges ahead and so we are just trying to be consistent in our approach. There are things we are doing well, but there are a lot of things we can improve on — and that is where our focus is.”

UCLA is also coming into the game against the Utes football team with some recent success. The Bruins lost its first five games of the season. The last two weeks they have beaten California and Arizona. They also only lost by one score to No. 15 ranked Washington.

“They are coming off a couple of wins and have some momentum right now. They scored 30-plus points in each of those games,” Whittingham said. “So we have to go down and play well again. That’s the nature of the conference, you have to play well week in and week out.”

The Utes will become bowl eligible with a win, but Whittingham said he wants his squad to be “consistent in our approach”. Following the game against UCLA, the Utes still have to play at Arizona State, home against No. 19 Oregon, and at Colorado in conference play.

Kick-off for the game against UCLA is Friday at 8:30 p.m. MDT. It will be televised on ESPN2.

If you want a deep dive into the matchup for Utah this week, check out the Special Forces Gang podcast. Former Ute players Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips host it. Click here to watch.