By Andrew Gorringe
Well, it wasn’t pretty, and at time it was downright scary, but the Utes were lead by their defense to a 20-14 win over the Colorado Buffaloes on a snowy afternoon in Salt Lake City. The Utes were looking to send off their seniors with a win, and they did just that in their regular season finale.
While the defense ended up being the difference for Utah, again, it didn’t start out that way. The Ute defense surrendered a quick 51 yards to the Colorado offense to start the game, but stiffened up in the red zone and blocked an attempted 31-yard field goal. The Ute offense then drove the length of the field, mostly on the back of running back Joe Williams, before Travis Wilson hit Kenneth Scott for a 16-yard touchdown pass.
The Utes drove down the field with relative ease against the Buffalo defense, but it was the defense once again struggling to get Colorado off the field, before once again coming up big in the red zone. After starting on their own 5-yard line, Colorado drove 87 yards in 7 plays, but a tipped pass from defensive tackle Stevie Tuikolovatu led to a Marcus Williams’ interception, his fifth on the season.
It looked as if Utah was ready to drive down the field and score for a second time, as they gained 34 quick yards, but a Joe Williams fumble brought an end to that offensive drive. Williams also was banged up on the play, and took quite the beating through out the whole game, but ended up returning to the game, and being one of the lone bright spots on the Ute offense.
The Utes and Buffaloes traded punts and turnovers for most of the 2nd quarter, 2 fumbles and an interception for Utah and another Colorado interception off a deflected pass, which fell in to the arms of Cory Butler-Byrd, but the Buffaloes were able to cut the lead to 3 when 2nd string QB Cade Aspay hit Nelson Spruce for a 22-yard touchdown. The Utes looked primed to score another touchdown just before the end of the half, but a poor decision by Travis Wilson resulted in an interception in the end zone, and the Utes led 10-7 at halftime.
Despite his 2nd quarter fumble, running back Joe Williams finished the day with 187 yards rushing on 34 carries, with his first career touchdown coming at the start of the second half, which put Utah up 17-7 at that point. Williams displayed great burst and speed through out the whole game, and looked ready to carry on the proud tradition of great junior college transfer running backs at Utah.
With a 17-7 lead, and another field goal coming just one drive later to push the lead to 20-7, the Utah defense turned on their ‘A’ game, and really made life hard for the Colorado offense. 2nd string QB Cade Aspay was knocked out of the game with concussion like symptoms, which meant the Buffaloes were down to their 3rd string QB, Jordan Gehrke. Utah’s defense tee’d off on the youngster, and sacked him 6 times, 3 of which came from senior defensive tackle Seni Fauonuku.
While the Ute defense turned it on, the Ute offense seemingly turned it off after a field goal on their previous drive. Conservative play calling, no separation by wide receiver’s and poor decision making by Travis Wilson led to the Ute offense finishing the game with 3 straight punts, and was ultimately the biggest factor for why the game was as close as it was. It’s become plainly clear that Utah doesn’t have the firepower at wide receiver to provide much of a threat in the pass game, as Travis Wilson finished the day with just 108 yards on 10 of 26 passing. The problems with the “throw game” can’t be pinned on just one thing. Simply put, the quarterback, the wide receivers and the offensive schemes just aren’t good enough for Utah to put up enough of a passing threat to turn these types of game in to blow outs, which is what it should have been.
Instead, a touchdown pass from Colorado QB Jordan Gehrke to Paul Lindsay cut the lead to just 6 with under 4 minutes left in the game, and an ensuing Utah 3 and out gave the ball back to Colorado with 2:30 seconds left, needing to drive 80 yards for a touchdown and the lead. After a sack from defensive end Kylie Fitts forced second and long situation, Colorado ended up converting a 1st down on 4th and 7, on a 23-yard completion to Bryce Bobo. Another 8-yard pass set up the Buffaloes at the Utah 47, but that’s when the Ute defense decided they had had enough, and wanted this game to be over with. Defensive tackle Seni Fauonuku and linebacker Jared Norris teamed up for a sack on Gehrke, and Norris both forced and recovered a fumble, sealing the 20-14 win for Utah.
As was the case most of the season, Utah was able to tough out another win, which got the team to 9-3 on the season, which is the best season record wise they’ve had in the PAC 12. Back to back losses the weeks before, and losing the opportunity to win the PAC 12 South will hang over the heads of players, coaches and fans when thinking about the 2015 season, but the fact remains that Utah has a chance to win double digit games for the first time since 2010, but this time it’s coming in arguably the deepest college football conference in the country. Despite any disappointments, it was a great regular season for Utah, and now they will wait to find out where and who they’ll play in a late December bowl game, for a chance to get that coveted 10th win on the season.