Utes race past CSU, finish 2014 season with a dominating performance

Vegas Bowl BW-28

Like always, Las Vegas had its share of winners Saturday night, but perhaps the biggest winners of the day were the No. 22 Utes, who ended their surprising nine-win 2014 season with a dominating 45-10 victory over Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.
Making their first bowl appearance since 2011, the Utes came out energized and ready to make a statement against their former Mountain West Conference rivals, and the nation, that they belong in a premier conference like the Pac-12.
After forcing the Rams into a quick three-and-out on their first possession, the Utah offense got off to an explosive start with a trick play designed by head coach Kyle Whittingham and offensive coordinator Dave Christensen.
The play began with a handoff from quarterback Travis Wilson to tailback Devontae Booker. After stretching the defense towards the far sideline Booker pitched the ball to quarterback Jason Thompson who lined up as a receiver. Thompson then threw a lateral pass back across the field to Wilson, who hurled the ball 53 yards downfield to an open Kaelin Clay who evaded a defender and came down with the slightly underthrown ball.
“We [Whittingham and Christensen] talked about it Wednesday or Thursday that it would be a good play to open up with,” Whittingham said. “It was well executed … it could have been a touchdown but we’re not going to complain, it was a big chunk of yardage that we picked up and we still executed pretty good.”
Two plays later, Wilson kept the ball on the read-option keeper and scampered into the end zone for the first of his four total touchdowns on the day. Wilson finished his afternoon completing 17 of his 26 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown but the ground game is where he found the most success, rushing 11 times for 91 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m happy with how we played,” Wilson said. “I wish I had a better completion percentage, and I missed Kaelin on a couple deep balls, but the running was working for me and I took advantage of it. The O-line did a great job of blocking and having Booker running well too set me up for some of those big runs.”
Whittingham was proud that his junior quarterback was able to take control of the game after the kind of season he had and said that he is a valuable dual threat quarterback.
“He’s been a productive runner for us ever since he got on campus,” Whittingham said. “I’m not going to say that that is his absolute strong suit but he is a very capable runner and he made some big runs today. He’s deceptive, he moves a lot faster and picks up a lot more ground than it looks when he’s running and he’s very productive when he does that. It was great to see him finish on a big positive, I’m very happy for him.
After an up-and-down season from Wilson that included offensive struggles in addition to a few benching’s, Wilson ended his 2014 campaign as the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl’s MVP.
“I’m really happy and blessed I got this opportunity and I’m really more excited for this team that we were able to get to a bowl game this year and get a big win,” Wilson said. “Now we get a little time to relax and celebrate so it’s definitely a good feeling.”
Not to be outshined by Wilson, Booker finished the afternoon with 26 rush attempts for 162 yards and a touchdown as well as 4 receptions for 24 yards. Booker’s lone touchdown on the day came on an explosive 60 yard run in the first quarter where he took the first handoff of the drive through the CSU defensive front on his way to the end zone.
The team, as a whole, accomplished a lot Saturday night. Not only did the skittish Utah offense finally burst out of its shell, but the defense was able to continue its dominant string of performances over the course of the season, holding the touted CSU offense to 278 yards of total offense including only 12 net rushing yards.
“That was a product of the preparation the last three weeks,” Whittingham said of his team’s performance in Las Vegas. “The way our guys attacked the bowl preparation practice-wise, meeting-wise, conditioning-wise is really is what makes the difference in our program in bowl situations. They did a great job during the last three weeks of preparing themselves the right way and all they had to today was come out and execute.”
With the lopsided victory over the Rams, the 2014 senior class added a bowl victory to its list of accolades that already included the program’s first winning conference record in the Pac-12. They will also be remembered as the senior class that ended the year with a top-25 ranking, the first class to do that since 2010.
“Overall it was nice to get a win, the ninth win of the season for the seniors and for this team and probably a top-20 ranking as well,” Whittingham said. “I’m happy to see the seniors go out this way. They deserve it and they’ve earned it.”
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