Bowl game hopes were on the line for both the University of Utah football team (6-6 overall, 3-6 Pac-12) and the Colorado Buffaloes (5-7 overall, 2-7 Pac-12) prior to Saturday’s contest, but on senior day at Rice-Eccles Stadium behind a run game that gashed the Buffaloes, Utah became bowl eligible for its fourth-straight season after a 13-34 victory to end the regular season.
“It takes some of the sting out of a frustrating season. You lose to the supposed three best teams in the conference by one, three and three [points], two of them on the road, and so this team was close,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham. “They’re fighters. As frustrating as some of those losses were, to have them pull themselves back together and have another effort like tonight was a credit to them — a real credit to our team and our seniors.”
Troy Williams got the nod at quarterback, and he finished the night 15-of-24 for 181 passing yards, while Darren Carrington led all receivers with six receptions for 64 yards. All eyes were on Zack Moss though as he surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the season after finishing the night with 26 carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s something you definitely want to do as a college running back at some point in your career. Doing it as a sophomore, it means a lot,” Moss said. “I’ve still got a lot more work to do, coming back with this team next year. It’s going to be real fun.”
The Utah run game caught fire early as Moss broke tackles left and right to give the team its first two touchdowns of the night. After back-to-back rushes of 17 and 6 yards on the Utes’ second drive of the game, Williams connected with him for 25 yards. A few plays later, Moss ran in a 15-yard touchdown.
Colorado attempted a 51-yard field goal on its next possession, but the ball went wide. The Utes used that as momentum, and Moss, Devonta’e Henry-Cole and a pass interference penalty on Colorado helped. Henry-Cole ran for 9 yards on the drive, while Moss ran for a total of 27 yards including a touchdown from 2 yards out.
According to Whittingham, the plan heading into the game was to be “run heavy.”
“We just thought we had a good matchup in the trenches,” Whittingham said. “We thought our offensive line matched up very well with their front seven and that we would have success running the ball.”
Williams showed confidence, control and leadership with the reigns of the Utah offense in his hands as he went on to throw a 40-yard bullet to Raelon Singleton. Moss picked up a first down that set Williams up for an 8-yard rushing touchdown. He tacked on another touchdown, this one from 9 yards out with 23 seconds left until halftime to give Utah a 28-0 lead.
Things started clicking for the Buffaloes as they scored a 6-yard rushing touchdown early in the second half. They kept the Utes from scoring another touchdown for the remainder of the game and instead forced Matt Gay to kick field goals. One of the two field goals in the second half came in the third quarter from 37 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Colorado’s Steven Montez ran in a 3-yard touchdown, but the Buffs failed to capitalize on the 2-point conversion. With the energy the Buffaloes gathered together, Bradlee Anae stripped it from them as he forced a fumble and Cody Barton recovered it on their own 33-yard line. Utah took advantage of the defensive hustle by adding three more points to its score off a 48-yard field goal to cap the scoring.
The Utes will find out which bowl game they are headed to on Sunday, Dec. 3.