In the last conference game of their season, the Utah Utes will travel to Boulder, CO, to take on the Colorado University Buffaloes.
The No. 21 Utes (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) and Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5 Pac-12) come into this game with heavy implications for both teams. The Utes are deadlocked in a fight for the Pac-12 South that will come down to the last game of the year for both them and the Arizona State Sun Devils. The Buffaloes are looking to qualify for a bowl game, failing to do so last year with a 5-7 record. A win against Utah would put them at 6-5, making them bowl eligible, just as the Utes’ victory over the Buffaloes last year was the bowl-clinching game for them.
The past three years have been surprisingly similar for both teams. The Buffaloes had a 10-4 campaign in 2016, ending with two straight losses in the Pac-12 Championship to Washington, and then losing in the Alamo Bowl to Oklahoma State. The Utes went 9-3, with a win against Indiana University in the Foster Farms Bowl. In 2017, CU went 5-7, and Utah went 7-6, beating West Virginia in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. This year, Colorado started as hot as can be, winning their first five games. Utah started at 2-2 before rattling off four straight wins.
The difference comes in the second half of the season. Colorado is currently riding a five-game losing streak, while Utah has won five of their last six. Both teams have suffered destructive injuries, with Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss out for the year, and CU’s offensive producers also on the sideline for this upcoming play. According to CU staff writer Neill Woelk, nine Buffalo players who started the season have missed games this season.
Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne were ready for the noise last week and will return as this week’s starting tandem. Colorado will look to senior quarterback Sean Montez, who has started all ten games this season, and Travon McMillian, who is looking to fill the gap left by Colorado’s leading scorers.
Where the Utes hold most of the cards is on the defensive side of the ball. The team still leads the nation in the red zone defense, and ranks among the top five in the Pac-12 in red zone offense, rushing defense, interceptions and first down defense. The Utah defense has done a phenomenal job, on the national level, of putting the ball back in the offense’s hand and capitalizing when the opportunities are there.
Unlike most of the Pac-12 games this season, this one will not be an easy victory for the Utes. The team had an understandably off game last week, mostly because of the adjustments on offense. The team went 2-6 on red zone opportunities and had to be saved by 20 points from kicker Matt Gay. While as sturdy as ever, the defense did not force any turnovers against Oregon, which can turn the tide of any game.
While the Utes still have adjustments to make, they are heavily favored in this matchup. In an effort to maintain focus, Jason Shelley was not available to the media in the week’s press conference.
Kickoff for the game is slated for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 17 in Boulder, Colorado.