Utah survived an ugly game in the cold and snow on Saturday to finish the 2015 regular season 9-3 overall, 6-3 in conference. The record is the program's best since joining the Pac-12 and puts the team in position to reach ten wins with a bowl victory for the first time since the 2010 season. Let's look at how the Utes graded out in Saturday's win.
The offense struggled once again. Travis Wilson completed only 10 of 26 passes for 108 yards as the offense struggled to get anything going through the air. Wilson did hook up with Kenneth Scott for a touchdown in the first quarter, but also threw a terrible inteception in the endzone just before half to thwart a Utah scoring opportunity.
Joe Williams had another big day, rushing for 187 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. Williams was able to rip off a 64 yard gain late in the second quarter, Utah's longest play from scrimmage, but Utah did not get any points from the drive. Williams fumbled early in the game, and his ball security will need to improve moving forward into next season after losing a fumble last week as well. Overall it was another frustrating performance, but the Utes did manage to get into the end zone a couple times which is more than they managed last week.
Turnovers have been a common theme in Utah wins and Saturday was no different. The Utah defense once again bailed out the offense behind four forced turnovers, one fumble recovery and three interceptions. Gionni Paul, Cory Butler-Byrd and Marcus Williams came away with the interceptions, while senior Jared Norris forced the fumble on Colorado's final possession, icing the game for Utah.
The Utah defense also pressured Colorado's quarterbacks all afternoon, coming away with six sacks, the highest single game total this season. Viliseni Fauonuku accounted for four of the six sacks after not having a sack all season. Kylie Fitts had another great game to cap a breakout regular season for him with 1.5 sacks and a couple pass tips. The defense did allow Colorado to move the ball some through the air, but held Colorado to just 1.5 yards per rush and was the reason Utah won the game.
Special Teams played a factor early in the game, when Kylie Fitts got his hand on Colorado's 31 yard field goal attempt on the opening drive. Andy Phillips was two for two on his field goal attempts, converting from 27-yards and 37-yards out. Tom Hackett was his usual self, punting seven times and flipping field position in the Utes favor, landing three punts inside Colorado's 20 yard line and averaging 50.6 yards per punt. Boobie Hobbs and Cory Butler-Byrd put the ball on the ground while fielding a couple punt and kick returns, but managed to recover. Special teams again did their part in securing the win for the Utes.
After two straight losses, Utah needed a win to end the season on a high note. The energy level and focus seemed to be there for the players on Saturday, and despite the ineptitude of the offense, the coaches did a good job getting the team ready against a Colorado team that had the potential to be dangerous. The coaching staff made the adjustment on offense coming out of halftime and went back to the run after trying to throw unsuccessfully through much of the first half. The result was successful, as Utah methodically marched down the field, resulting in Joe Williams plunging into the end zone on a five yard run.
Defensively the coaches put together a gameplan that severely limited any ground attack Colorado had, and though they gave up some big plays and key third downs through the air, the focus on turnovers really helped to overshadow any deficiencies in the secondary on Saturday. Overall it was a typical performance by Utah under this coaching staff, tough gritty play, doing just enough to get the win. Looking back at the season I think most people would have taken 9-3 heading into the year. Though the style of play is rarely pretty and often frustrating to watch, it is effective, and the overall record including today's win is a testament to the coaching staff.