Game Wrap-Up - Colorado at Utah

Utah loses much more than the game in this budding rivalry.

October 27, 2007.

That's the last time Colorado won a football game away from home.

That is until Friday.

The inaugural "Rumble in the Rockies" was the last time Colorado's seniors would have a chance to buck that trend, and they were prepared for a fight from the opening kickoff.

Too bad the same can't be said for Utah.

It's easy to point fingers at Coleman Peterson, Utah's kicker who missed three field goals on the afternoon, but blame rests on a lot of shoulders and needs to be passed well beyond the freshman walk-on.

Coach Whittingham, more than anybody else, needs to be held responsible for Friday's debacle. It was clear from the opening kick that his team was anything but prepared. The Utah offense managed just one, ONE, first down through the first 30-minutes of play while the Ute defense looked about as bad as they had all season. Colorado's gameplan had Ute defenders confused all afternoon.

The coaching job Whittingham has put together this season has been nothing short of masterful. Since the loss to Cal in October his team has been reborn, ready to face and tackle any challenge thrown at them. Sadly though Friday was a major regression in coaching and play on all fronts for the Utes and that ultimately falls on the head coach. It was very clear that the team wasn't ready to play in all three phases of the game: on offense, defense, and special teams.

This was easily the worst defensive effort from the Utes since the loss at Cal, but the seeds of Friday's loss seemed to be planted last week. If you remember, Utah's defensive in the second half against Washington State very nearly lost them the game in Pullman, if not for a timely interception and a game-winning field goal in overtime. Overall, though, looking back now it was clear the defense was having issues as far back as last week.

Those issues carried over to Friday's matchup with Colorado where the Buffaloes' misdirection running and passing plays had Utah defenders scrambling on nearly every play. The Ute defense forced just four punts during the entire game.

The bad defense started early. Mo Lee's personal foul penalty after a 3rd down stop extended Colorado's opening drive which ended in a touchdown instead of a punt. That was just the start of Utah's problems that would last the entire first half and well into the second. Colorado's second possession ended in a fumble at the 1 yard line that went through the end zone but was very nearly another CU score. The Buffs had three drives in the first half of 69 yards or longer and seemed to be able to move the ball at will on the Utah defense, something that would have been unheard of just a couple of weeks ago.

On offense things weren't much better. Although the penalties we saw last week were gone, the scoring we saw in Pullman was gone too. Utah managed one measly first down in the first half and really didn't get things going until midway through the third quarter. By then the defensive tone had been set by Colorado and Utah's comeback was forced, hurried, and very desperate.

In the end, despite all of the shortcomings and inabilities Utah faced in the first half they still had multiple chances to win the game. Every time Utah drove the field to score, CU would drive to match. After a score to open the third quarter, Utah's defense allowed Colorado to go 82 yards and answer. It was that type of half. First and goal from the 7 yard line for Utah seemed like the long-awaited go-ahead score for the Utes, but even that wasn't to be as Peterson missed a chip-shot field goal that would have tied the score.

Sure Peterson missed the kicks, but Utah's offense had golden opportunities to take him out of the equation and the Ute defense allowed multiple drives after scores that killed any momentum gained on the other side of the ball. This was a team loss, not a loss to be pinned on any one player.

And as I mentioned earlier, the coaches aren't devoid of blame either. Onsides kick? Punt return lateral? Where was the passion and energy early in the game? Where was the urgency and determination to win knowing a berth to the conference championship game was on the line? There are no excuses here; this was a missed opportunity on all fronts, a failure by all involved when everything they had fought for all season was within their reach.

Going forward, Utah still has a bowl game to play in. Sure, that's still an accomplishment considering where this team was just 5 weeks ago, but there is no doubt that the excitement level surrounding the bowl game will be lessened after Friday's loss. The players aren't blind, they saw Cal beat Arizona State just like the fans did and they know what they missed out on. The fans were ready to make the trip to Eugene or Palo Alto or wherever they needed to but will now have to settle for the Alamo, Holiday, Sun, or (gasp) Las Vegas Bowls.

A trip to the conference championship may not have been pretty considering how the team has played recently but it would Utah the opportunity to make a huge splash in their first season in the Pac-12. Now they're just one of the ‘other guys' playing in an unimportant bowl game when they had chances for so much more.

This was still a successful first season in the Pac-12, don't forget that. But the thought of ‘what could have been' is one that won't be forgotten any time soon.

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