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UCLA Football Opposition Preview: Utah's Coaching Staff and Special Teams

We start our look at Utah with Kyle Whittingham and his coaching staff, as well as Utah's special teams

Kyle Whittingham in a familiar pose, congratulating Coach Mora
Kyle Whittingham in a familiar pose, congratulating Coach Mora
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Whittingham has been the national coach of the year. That is a claim which none of Doughnut's football hires can make, including Coach Mora. Whittingham earned this honor after Utah's dream season in 2008, when the Utes went undefeated while a member of the Mountain West Conference, and then thumped Alabama in the 2009 Sugar Bowl. That Utah team finished 4th in the coach's poll and 2nd in the AP poll.

It is has been a different story for Whittingham and the Utah football program since switching over to the Pac-12. Utah has not achieved a winning conference record in any season since joining the Pac-12, and is off on the wrong foot this year with a loss in their conference opener to Washington State 28-27.

This is Whittingham's 10th year as head coach at Utah. He took over the program after Urban Meyer left for Florida. And Utah is the only head coaching job which Whittingham has held. He was Utah's defensive coordinator for 10 seasons before moving up to head coach with Meyer's departure. His overall record in 10 seasons is a solid 79-40, including a win as co-head coach with Meyer in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl before Meyer left for sunnier climes.

Whittingham's team is 0-2 vs. UCLA with Jim Mora at the helm. Whittingham's team was 1-0 vs. UCLA with CRN at the helm, as the Utes thumped UCLA in Utah's first season in conference play (and CRN's last season at UCLA). Whittingham's team was also 1-0 vs. UCLA with Karl Dorrell at the helm, as the Utes thumped UCLA in 2007 in Dorrell's final season. So apparently, whenever Whittingham's Utah team beats UCLA, Doughnut fires the head football coach after the season. That will hopefully be enough incentive for the Bruins to come out fighting this weekend.

Utah's offensive coordinator is Dave Christensen, and the defensive coordinator is Kalani Fifita Sitake. Christensen is in his first season at Utah, after being the head coach at Wyoming for five seasons. His tenure at Wyoming was mixed, to say the least, including a postgame meltdown after a loss to Air Force. A very familiar name, Dennis Erickson, remains on the Utah staff as running back coach, after being co-offensive coordinator last season. Sitake has been on Utah's staff since Whittingham took over as head coach in 2005, and has served as defensive coordinator since 2009.

Utah has been excellent on special teams this year. Playing at altitude helps. But the stats do show a solid performance. Senior Kaelin Clay, from Long Beach Poly and Mount SAC, has already returned three punts for touchdowns, and is averaging 26.1 yards on eight returns. He also has a 100 yard kickoff return for a TD to his credit this season. The kickoff return and one of the punt returns came in the season opener against Idaho State. Another TD punt return came in Utah's win over Michigan in the Big House, with the final TD return coming last week against Washington State. Utah's special teams, meanwhile, have held the opponents to a 3.7 punt return average on six punts, thanks in no small part to junior punter Tom Hackett, who was all Pac-12 last year.

Sophomore Andy Phillips handles the FG, PAT and kickoff duties for Utah. He was honorable mention all-conference and 3rd team freshman all-american last year, converting 17 of 20 FG attempts. This year, he is 7 of 9, with a long of 50 yards.

Special teams would appear to be in good hands for Utah coming into Saturday's game. Now, if we can just take care of the rest...Remember, no UCLA head football coach has retained his job under Doughnut's reign of error after losing to Utah. It would probably be a good idea to not try Doughnut's patience this week. Very little rouses him from his normal stupor, but apparently losing to Utah is a trigger.

Go Bruins !!