Zack Moss, Bradlee Anae, Leki Fotu, and Julian Blackmon all returned for their senior seasons for a chance to finish some unfinished business, and this Utah football team will get a chance to do just that this coming Friday against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Levis Stadium. The Utes capped an incredible 11-1 regular season, with an 8-1 mark in Pac-12 play, blowing out almost all competition that they played in route to their second straight division title, and that was the case Saturday on ABC with a 45-15 win over Colorado.
It wasn’t the best night for the Utes, as they got off to a slower than normal start. So slow in fact, they had three three-and-outs in the first quarter, all back-to-back-to-back. That’s something this Utah offense doesn’t do. The Utes fell behind 7-0 after Colorado was able to move the ball on their 3rd possession of the game, although, the Ute defense really made them earn every yard to get those points. The Buffs ended up leading 7-0 after the first, but the Utah defense really got them on lock down after that. Colorado would rack up 91 yards of total offense in the first quarter, the Utes would only allow 126 for the remainder of the game.
Utah’s offense sputtered early, as they couldn’t get the run game going, with CU selling out to stop Zack Moss, and Tyler Huntley wasn't sharp early on as he was looking to run way too early with guys breaking open down field. The Utah special teams weren’t really helping out the cause too much, either, outside of a muffed punt recovery that Utah got in CU territory, that also turned into a three and out. Demari Simpkins had a rough start to open the game, as the fielded a punt in the end zone that would've been downed at the one, and then he muffed a punt that was fortunately recovered by the Utes. What looked like unfocused plays by Demari, and the Utes offense in general in that opening frame.
Utah finally got things on track in that second quarter, on offense, they evened the score to start the second quarter when Huntley broke several tackles to launch a 38-yard passing touchdown to Kuithe in the end zone. Pass pro had some issues early, but Huntley did a great job extending plays, and finding Kuithe downfield really got the ship rolling.
Utah started to assert themselves with 2:03 remaining in the second quarter when Kuithe’s (again) ability to be a dual-threat weapon on offense put the Utes in the end zone once again. Kuithe’s 44-yard rush was the giant play in the 84-yard scoring drive that ended with his second touchdown of the game, a seven-yard touchdown grab to put the Utes up 14-7.
The Utes almost scored another touchdown to end the half after a great punt return by Julian Blackmon returned a punt to the CU 14, but some questionable spots left the Utes shy of the goal line and they had to settle for the field goal giving them a 17-7 halftime lead.
The Utes started their next scoring drive in Colorado territory after the Utah defense kept the Buffaloes inside their own 10-yard line, forcing them to punt it away. Utah started on the Colorado 48-yard line, converting on four third downs, including a one-yard rushing touchdown from Devin Brumfield on a third-and-goal to give the Utes a 24-7 advantage. This was a soul crushing drive for CU, as Utah really started to get their mojo, and you could see Utah start to take control of the game at this point.
After the Utah defense forced another punt, the Utes scored its first special teams touchdown of the season when Simpkins totally redeemed himself and blasted past Colorado for a 66-yard return for the touchdown giving the Utes the 31-7 lead. It was impressive on all fronts, and it was great to see the senior wide receiver have a giant play on senior night.
CU did go down and score shortly after that, giving themselves a little bit of life, as they cut Utah’s lead to 16. That hope was dashed quick, after CU attempted an onside kick, the Utes scored on the next drive with Moss’ 15thtouchdown of the season, tying the school record for single-season touchdowns. Jaylen Dixon and Simpkins had catches of 24 and 21-yard catches respectively before Moss put the Utes up 38-15.
And to put the cherry on top of the game, Kuithe again had a rushing touchdown to give Utah the 45-15 lead.
This wasn’t Utah’s best effort, but they still put up 45 points on 372 total yards of offense. Tyler Huntley went 14 of 17 for 165 and two touchdowns, while Zack Moss had 88 yards on 20 carries and the one touchdown. Kuithe, the star of the night, had 59 yards on the ground, the one touchdown, and 63 yards through the air and two touchdowns.
As for the defense, they do what they always do. They held CU to 217 total yards, and another rushing defensive performance under 100 yards, giving up just 60. They had opportunities to get turnovers, but they just missed on a few. Devin Lloyd led the Utes in tackles with nine that included 1.5 sacks for a loss of 12 yards. Jaylon Johnson, Mika Tafua, Julian Blackmon and Bradlee Anae all racked up five tackles each with Anae adding 1.5 sacks to tie the school record for career sacks at 29.5. Anae was robbed of another sack after he was held in the end zone, which should have resulted in a safety, but that was missed by the Pac-12 officials. Eyes will be on Johnson going forward, as he left the game with a leg injury, but did come back to play. I know Steven Montez has to be thrilled never to play Utah again, as they have harassed him for this three years as a starter at Colorado.
Now the Utes can turn their focus to what they’ve been looking forward to all off season up to now, the Pac-12 Championship Game and the Oregon Ducks. The Utes will be playing for Roses (maybe more) on Friday, and they’ll need a better effort than we saw tonight to get that done.
It’s the matchup we’ve all wanted all season, and now it’s here. As Moss said when he came back, let’s do this damn thing.