Colorado at Utah - Game Preview

The Utah Utes host the Colorado Buffaloes in the final game of the regular season for both teams.

Facts and Factors:
Utah (7-4, 4-4 Pac-12) hosts Colorado (2-10, 1-7 Pac-12) in the "Rumble in the Rockies" on Friday, Nov. 25 in Salt Lake City. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m. MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah, takes a 4 game winning streak into Friday's matchup with the buffaloes, and are 22 point favorites against the Buffaloes. Utah still has a chance to represent the South Division in the Pac-12 championship game. For the Utes to play in the title game, they must beat Colorado this week, and Arizona State (vs. Cal) and UCLA (vs. USC) must both lose. Arizona State is favored by 4.5 points at home, while UCLA are 14 point underdogs at home.

Friday marks the final home game for 18 Utah seniors who will be honored in a pre-game ceremony. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham has requested that all fans who wish to attend the game wear red, and arrive early to honor the seniors.

Utah is 7-4 on the season, and bowl eligible for the ninth-consecutive season. The Utes have been bowl eligible all seven seasons under head coach Kyle Whittingham.

The Buffs lead the series 30-24-3 with Utah ahead 14-13-2 in Salt Lake City. Once heated rivals, these two teams played in football all but four seasons from 1903-1962 but have not played since. Utah's 57 games against CU is its most against a Pac-12 school and the fifth-longest series in school history.

The last time Utah played a team other than Brigham Young in its regular season finale was in 2001, when the Utes finished their season with a make-up game at Air Force on Dec. 1. Utah was scheduled to play Air Force on Sept. 15 that season, but the game was rescheduled due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

When Utah has the ball:
Make no mistake about it, Utah is a run-first offense who will pound the between the tackles with John White IV. The Utes will rush the ball over 60% of the time. Utah will start 3 seniors on Friday, Senior OT Tony Bergstrom, Senior OT John Cullen, and FB Shawn Asiata. The Utes average 25.5 points per game, while putting up 170 passing yards per game and 142 rushing yards per game.

Colorado enters Friday's matchup with one of the worst statistical defenses in America. The Buffaloes allow 38.4 points per game. Colorado ranks last in the PAC-12 in rushing defense and last in pass efficiency defense.

At quarterback for the Utes, Jon Hays has a 5-2 record as a starter. Hays has thrown for 1081 yards on the season (120 per game), with 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. Hays' can throw a good deep ball at times, but will rely on short passes designed to move the chains. Perhaps Hays' greatest attribute is his leadership ability and toughness. Teammates respect Hays and rally around the junior.

For the Utes, RB John White IV has been awesome. To start the season, coaches wanted White to get between 15-20 touches a game. In last week's victory over Washington State, the Ute running back carried the ball 42 times…a remarkable number for a running back that is barely 5'10 and 180 lbs. On the season, White has rushed for 1456 yards (125 per game, ranks 8th in nation) and scored 16 touchdowns. White ranks 2nd in the PAC-12 in rushing yards/game behind Oregon's LaMichael James

At Wide Receiver, Utah is much more formidable with junior WR Devonte Christopher in the lineup. Christopher is a big play threat who has become a very reliable possession receiver on 3rd downs. Christopher will go after and catch any ball in his area, taking some serious hits in the process. Despite missing 2 games due to injury, Christopher leads the Utes in receiving yards (533, 59 per game), and receiving touchdowns (4). Freshman Dres Anderson is 2nd on the team in receptions, but has lost some playing time in recent weeks to Junior Reggie Dunn (who is a dangerous run threat). Freshman Kenneth Scott has consistently earned more playing time over the season. At tight end, Utah has shifted DE David Rolf over to the offensive side of the ball to help fill a need. Kendrick Moeai is the receiving option for the Utes, but usually will only get receiving opportunities on 3rd downs.

The Utes Offensive Line has benefitted more than anybody for the increased emphasis on a running game. Over the first 7 games of the season, Utah's offensive line won on average 75% of plays. Over the past 4 games (all wins), Utah's Offensive line has won an average of 85% of plays from scrimmage. The biggest improvement has come from Utah's senior Offensive Tackles; Tony Bergstrom and John Cullen. Bergstrom is looking like an all-conference tackle and Cullen has broken out of an unexpected slump to start the season.

On the defensive line, Colorado has been exploited all season long. The Buffaloes play in a 3-4 defensive scheme, but have struggled to find players that fit the scheme. Will Pericak will play a big role in trying to stop the run. Pericak (6'4, 285) and Curtis Cunningham (6'1, 285) are the biggest defensive linemen, while David Goldberg (6'1, 245) is a converted linebacker. Chidera Uzo-Diribe (6-3, 240) has 5.5 sacks on the year, and poses the biggest pass rush threat from CU's linemen.

At linebacker, Colorado's linebackers haven't had much opportunity to fly around the field and make plays, instead facing linemen in their faces most games. Junior LB Jon Major (6'2, 230) leads Colorado in tackles with a respectable 76. Josh Hartigan (6'1, 220) has 6 sacks on the season.

The Buffalo secondary has not held up well against the pass, ranking dead last in the PAC-12 in pass efficiency. CU starts a freshman (Greg Henderson) and a senior (Travis Sandersfeld) at cornerback. At safety, Ray Polk has been one of the leading tacklers for the Buffaloes, and is often forced to come up in run support. Terel Smith is a "rangy" safety who is often caught out of position.

When Colorado has the ball:
Offensively, Colorado doesn't strike fear into the hearts of opponents. The Buffaloes rank 109th in America in scoring offense (12th in PAC-12), averaging just 20 points per game. The Buffaloes rank 9th in the PAC-12 in both rushing nad passing, and 11th in total offense. Colorado has opted to pass more than rush, throwing the ball on 53% of plays from scrimmage. The Buffaloes have been awful on 3rd down, converting just 36% of 3rd downs on the season.

The Utes will be ready on defense. Utah ranks 3rd in the PAC-12 in total defense, 2nd in the PAC-12 in rushing defense, and 1st in pass efficiency defense. The Utes are huge upfront, and fast in the secondary, a combination that will prove difficult for Colorado. Opponents are scoring just 19.9 points per game against the Utes this season. The Buffaloes would be thrilled to reach that number.

Tyler Hansen will get the start for Colorado, and has thrown for 2619 yards on the season with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Hansen has also scored 2 touchdowns on the ground, and rushed for over 100 yards on the season.

At Running Back, the Buffaloes have a very talented runner in Rodney Stewart. Stewart has averaged 4.6 yards per carry on the season, accumulating 819 total yards on the season. Last year, stewart rushed for 1300 yards on the season, but has not been as productive this season. Stewart is also a very dangerous weapon receiving, having caught 43 balls on the season for 561 yards. Utah's defense will need to be careful not to be overly aggressive.

On the outside, Tony Clemons is Colorado's most dangerous weapon with 578 receiving yards on the season, with 8 touchdowns and an average of 14.8 yards per reception. Paul Richardson has 510 receiving yards on the season, and 5 TDs.

On the offensive line, Colorado has a couple of big NFL prospects. OG Ryan Miller is an all-conference performer with a bright NFL future ahead of him. OT David Bakhtiari is young but talented, and has the skills to play for a long time as well. OG Ethan Adkins is a very good college lineman. He may not make it at the next level, but has been productive for the Buffaloes, only allowing 1 sack this season. At Center, Gus Handler still needs work, as does starting Right Tackle Ryan Dannewitz. The matchup of Ryan Miller vs. Star Lotulelei will be fun to watch.

The Utah defensive line has been sensational, led by the play of DT Star Lotulelei. PAC-12 coaches have called Star Lotulelei a "game wrecker". Derrick Shelby has been awesome for Utah in both run support and pass rush. Tevita Finau continues to develop, and athletically is one of the best athletes on the Utah team.

At linebacker, Utah was once very deep, but now are quite thin. Chaz Walker leads Utah in tackles going away, and is great in pursuit of the ball. Trevor Reilly has been a big play threat for the Utes, but has been quiet the last couple of weeks. Matt Martinez is a talented tackler, but is dinged up a bit. Backup V.J. Fehoko should see a lot of time on Friday, as should Martinez's backup David Fagergren. Defensive End Nate Fakahafua has been moved to LB this week to replace the injured Jacoby Hale.

In the secondary, Utah has faced a string of very talented WRs, and is relieved to face a Buffalo offense that doesn't exactly make defenses quiver in fear. For the Utes, Conroy Black has emerged as a big time corner, holding receivers below their averages in nearly every matchup this season. Opposite of Black, Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy will rotate back and forth dependent upon matchup. Lee is bigger and uses his background as a receiver to go after the ball and make interceptions. Lacy is a speedster, but a bit undersized. Utah should feel good about this matchup.

Special Teams:
Utah kicker Coleman Peterson has been a welcomed surprise for the Utes this season. Peterson has converted 17 of 21 field goals, and earned some recognition for his 3/3 performance in a blizzard last week. At punter, Sean Sellwood has averaged 43.3 yards per punt this season.

In the return game, Reggie Dunn has averaged about 24 yards per return, but has yet to break one for a touchdown. Dunn's long is 45. Griff McNabb is a sure handed punt returner, but isn't much of a threat to go the distance.

Will Oliver has been decent for the Buffaloes this season, converting 10 of 15 field goal attempts on the season. Oliver does have a big leg with deep range, but sometimes struggles with the easy kicks. Punter Darragh O'Neill has averaged just under 43 yards per punt, with a lot of opportunities to punt the ball.

Keenan Canty is the Buffalo return man, but he hasn't exactly proven to be dangerous. Canty averages just 17 yards per return, while Tony Jones also averages 17. Canty also returns punts, and is more sure handed than dangerous. His numbers are even lower than Griff McNabb's numbers.

Intangibles:
The injuries are stacking up for the Utes. Starters Jordan Wynn (QB), Dallin Rogers (TE) and reserves Charles Henderson (WR/PR), Boo Anderson (LB) and Keith McGill (S) will be out for the remainder of the season. LB Matt Martinez is probable, while LB Jacoby Hale is doubtful.

Weather forecasts for Friday are not pretty. Rain and snow is expected all morning, with highs in the low 40s. This will be third consecutive week that Utah has played in poor weather conditions.

Utah returns home after being on the road last week at Washington State. The travel shouldn't be too much of an issue, though the short week is not ideal coming off of a road game. Colorado is coming off of a road game at UCLA, and is on a short week. Friday's matchup will also be Colorado's 13th game in 13 weeks without a bye. The Buffaloes should be bruised and worn out.

Prediction:
Utah 34, Colorado 7

The Utah defense will have a big day in holding the Buffaloes down. Utah might score on defense or on special teams also. John White should have another big day, and if Colorado loads the box, Utah will find a few big plays to their receivers on the outside. The only way this game stays close is if Utah turns the ball over and gives Colorado points.

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