SALT LAKE CITY — After losing their first two conference games of 2013, reality was beginning to set in for the Utes. Utah had started its initial two seasons in the Pac-12 at 0-4 in conference play, and with a No. 5 team rolling into Salt Lake City, that was a trend that seemed almost certain to continue in year three.
Sure, the Utes had been competitive in most conference games, but seemed to lack that final push to get over the hump. The few Pac-12 wins the Utes did get were all against teams with losing records. Possibly the best conference victory Utah could claim was a 31-6 win over UCLA in year 1. The Bruins represented the Pac-12 South in the conference title game, but got crushed by Oregon and lost their bowl game to finish 6-8.
The Utes had lacked that signature win over one of the top tier members of the conference — a win that could propel their success going forward.
In front of the 15th largest home crowd in Utah football history, the Utes knocked off the No. 5 Stanford Cardinal 27-21 Saturday night.
"We were able to win this game in the end," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "The team made plays at the wire and that was the difference. We've had a few other close games this season where we weren't able to make those plays down the stretch and (Saturday) we did."
Finally. After hearing reports similar to "the Utes played hard, but came up just short" repeatedly over the last three years, let alone twice already this season, Utah broke through, making a statement in its new home.
"This is why you coach, for nights like this," Whittingham, who picked up his 75th win at the helm of the Utes, said.
"It feels great," Utah defensive end Trevor Reilly said. "This is the first time we've beaten a top 10 team since I've been here in 2009."
It also marked the first time that the Utes have defeated an AP Top 5 team at home.
"This is a nice win for our program," Whittingham said. "We had to play all 60 minutes. Stanford is a tremendous team and very physical. So many guys made plays. There were a lot of positives from this game."
In typical Coach Whittingham fashion, the Utes have been resilient — not only last night against a Stanford team that was riding a 13-game win streak, but over the course of the last three seasons. It would have been easy to throw in the towel after heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss, but the Utes continued to show fight, something that has defined the Utes under Whitt.
"We could have fragmented," Whittingham added. "We could have had a 'what's the point' kind of a deal. But the senior class refused to let that happen."
Whether or not the Utes can build on their first Pac-12 signature win remains to be seen, but rest assured, the rest of the conference has taken note — no game against the Utes will be easy.
Next up for the Utes is a their first trip outside the state as they travel south to Arizona to take on the Wildcats.