KYLE WHITTINGHAM: I guess that really dates me. I played in the first four, come full circle. We’re back here. In fact, Coach (indiscernible) was our coordinator in ’81 when we came here. That was the Washington State game, beat Washington State that year.
It’s great to be back. Our players are elated to be in this game. It’s a great reward, as Coach Fitz mentioned, for a very good season. Great destination, San Diego. The timing is great for our fans. It’s just win-win all around.
I can’t say how excited we are and thrilled to be here. Got Utah alum here tonight. Thank you for coming, appreciate you. Got the Utah tie going.
Great matchup. Coach Fitz, tough sun-of-a-gun. His team emulates him: physical, hard-nosed, which we like to think of ourselves the same way. Should be a great matchup. Two tough teams going at each other.
The coaches, coaching staff, excited as well. Thanks to our new athletic director, Mark Harlan, our president Ruth Watkins. A lot of people involved in getting us here.
Like I said, we’re excited for the opportunity. Can’t wait till the 31st. We’ll be ready to go.
Q. The week that you lost your quarterback and your runningback, was that the week of the Oregon game?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Arizona State game.
Q. What was that week like, to lose those two key positions?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: We lost 80 something percent of our offense in one fell swoop with losing those two guys. Obviously a devastating blow.
But we came back, had a team meeting on Monday. Next-man-up mentality, which most teams do. Said, Hey, we’re missing these guys, here are the next guys up, we believe in these guys, let’s go.
Everybody has to rally behind them, help pick up the slack. It’s not just the two guys replacing the two starters, but everybody has to pick up.
Very proud of the way our guys handled adversity all year long. We had to come out and win out to put our ourselves in the position to win the South. Our kids responded. Beat Oregon, Colorado, then beat our rivals right down south, BYU, right in succession with those guys, those new players.
Like coach’s team, our guys answered the bell all season long. Stared adversity in the face, never flinched. I’ve been coaching a lot of years, this might have been my most enjoyable year of coaching.
The personality of our football team this year was incredible. Great leadership. Only 11 scholarship seniors, but the leadership and the things those guys provided were incredible from that senior class.
Q. I heard Utah fans inundated the Holiday Bowl offices with letters asking for the invitation. What does that say about the desire of your team to be here?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: It says a lot. We got great fans. We’ve sold out 57, 58 some odd straight games. The support we have from our community is incredible. Our fans are great. Doesn’t surprise me they took things into their own hands and wanted to make sure you guys knew they were going to come down if we got invited to this game.
Can’t say enough good things about our fans, the support they’ve given our players over the last several, many years.
Q. Did you have an extra message to give your players about what this bowl means because of your experience here?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Not really. We’re pretty used to the bowl situation. Had a pretty good run of getting into bowls. I don’t think that my participation in the game really factors in.
But I can tell them firsthand what a great experience it was. When I was a college football player, I remember vividly every game down here in the Holiday Bowl. It was really the highlight of the year. Really was a great experience. We had just a great time together.
I told them, Hey, you’re in for a really good experience.
Q. From your playing experiences here, any memory stand out?
KYLE WHITTINGHAM: Yeah, there’s a few. Let’s see, against SMU, I made 22 tackles, 21 of them were about 10 yards plus downfield chasing Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The stats were padded, I guess, because I was looking at their rear-ends (laughter). That was the game we won in the last second there, Hail Mary pass. Two Catholics connected on a Hail Mary at a Mormon school to win the game. That was interesting.
I had the dubious honor of being the first guy to run a fake punt in a bowl game. It was my sophomore year in the Holiday Bowl. It was fourth-and-one, I got six inches. We didn’t get the first down because I got stopped.
But I have a lot of great memories here. Holiday Bowls one, two, three and four were outstanding. Been wanting to get back here since. Took 30 some odd years, but now we’re back, so…