Colorado State came into the 2014 Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl a confident bunch after a 10-2 season, and then the game started. The Pac-12 Utes dominated on defense and rolled up 548 yards of offense (359 on the ground) to blow out the Mountain West Conference Rams 45-10.
Utah looked like a Power 5 team should, attacking the Mountain West Conference Rams right from the opening kickoff. Utah's defense forced a three-and-out on Colorado State's first series, and then took advantage of the offensive power outage by throwing in some trickeration! Utah offensive coordinator Dave Christensen called a hand off, reverse, throwback to the quarterback and 36-yard pass down to speedy wide receiver Kaelin Clay at the Rams' 17-yard line. Utah running back Devontae Booker took the handoff nine yards on the subsequent play, and Utes quarterback Travis Wilson capped off the lightning drive with an eight-yard run of his own for the touchdown.
Utah's defense again held Colorado State's high-powered offense to three-and-out, and Wilson took over from the 29 yard line. After a costly holding penalty on Utes tackle Jeremiah Poutasi, a Vegas native, pushed Utah all the way back to their own 20, redshirt freshman running back Troy McCormick blazed through the Rams defense for a 49-yard gain down to the CSU 31-yard line. Four plays later, Wilson found wide receiver Delshawn McClellon in the left corner of the end zone for another touchdown. And just like that, the Utes were up 14-0 over the perhaps overconfident Rams.
Coaches often talk about getting punched in the mouth, and after the first two drives, CSU was both bleeding and reeling. The Rams showed some fight, however, and pulled out their own trick play, a Charles Lovett throw back to quarterback Garrett Grayon for a 39-yard touchdown, but that would be the end of the end zone dancing for Colorado State. Utah's defense would hold the Utes former conference mates out of the end zone the rest of the game.
Heading into today's Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Utah held one notable advantage over their opponents from Colorado State, their coaching staff. Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham, now 8-1 in bowl games, showed just how important coaching stability can be. Colorado State's staff were given their termination papers prior to the game, which couldn't help the morale of the staff or the players, but Utah quarterback Travis Wilson didn't do them any favors either.
Utah's junior quarterback threw for 158 yards on 17-of-26 passing (65.4 percent), with one touchdown, and the 6-foot-7 signal caller also ran three more into the end zone. In the second half, Wilson scored two touchdowns, which by themselves would have been enough to salt away the game, as Utah's defense didn't allow the Rams to score after the half.
Utah's defense held the high-octane Rams offense to just 12 rushing yard, 278 yards total. Colorado State managed just one third down conversion (1-10) for the entire game. The Utes also had more than twice as many first downs (29-13).
Colorado State's vaunted 1,300-yard rusher, Alabama transfer Dee Hart, managed just 21 yards on seven carries, a 3.0 yards per carry average. Without a rushing threat, the nation's leading sack attack harassed Rams quarterback Grayson into 20-of-34 passing (58 percent) for 227 yards, zero touchdowns passing and one interception. Utah also sacked Grayson three times during the game. (Utah's sack leader, All American, and Ted Hendricks Award winner Nate Orchard raised his single season record to 18.5 with a solo sack, which also forced a fumble.)
All American wide receiver Rashard Higgins put up 110 yards receiving on the Utes defense (on seven catches, 15.7 yards per catch), but Utah held the Belitnikoff finalist out of the end zone. Higgins, another in a long line of highly regarded wide outs Utah's secondary has shut down in bowl games, had scored 17 touchdowns on the season.
The game may have been won and lost on a special teams miscue by the Rams. At the end of the first half, Utah kicker Andy Phillips hit the left upright on a 38-yard field goal that would have pushed the Utes lead to 17 points and provided momentum into the break. To start the second half, Colorado State's defense forced Utah to punt on the first possession, but Utah's defense held the Rams to a 44-yard field goal attempt. CSU kicker Jared Roberts then shanked the kick left and ended what would be CSU's last real scoring threat.
The Utes used a simple ground-and-pound approach in the second half to run clock and tire out the CSU defense, which came into the game 89th in the nation in run defense. Booker rolled up 162 yards on 26 carries (6.1 yards per carry) and scoring a touchdown. Booker also produced by catching passes out of the backfield, catching four balls for 26 yards. McCormick also ran crazy on the beleaguered Rams, rolling up 86 yards on only five carries, a 17.5 yards per carry average. But it was Wilson's 91 yards on 11 carries (8.3 yards per carry) that really put Colorado State on their heels and put the game out of reach in the second half.
Utah finishes the 2014 football season with a 9-4 record and the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl title, the school's third. The Utes improve to 14-4 in bowl games and have won 11 of their last 12 bowls. Wilson was named the game MVP.
Utah enters the offseason with some questions at quarterback, where Kendal Thompson appears to have the edge, even while Wilson captured the bowl game and the MVP award. Another question is whether or not 1,500-yard rusher and All Pac-12 first teamer Booker, a rather large part of the Utes offense, will declare for the National Football League 2015 Draft, or whether he'll return for his senior season. Booker will return home to discuss the matter with his family.