Slow start, injuries doom Utes in loss to Colorado

Published: Friday, Nov. 25 2011 9:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Turns out, it was a very bleak Black Friday up on the hill.

Utah's 17-14 loss to Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium proved to be a costly affair, with the Utes feeling blue about what could have been. They left more disappointed than the next shopper in line when a supply of advertised doorbusters is exhausted.

The surprising setback cost Utah (7-5, 4-5) a winning conference record in its inaugural season in the Pac-12, along with a possible berth in the league's championship game. It also spoiled "Senior Night" and the Utes' home finale.

Adding to the pain was losing to a Colorado team that had dropped 23 consecutive road games, a skid dating back to Oct. 27, 2007. Injuries to three starters — right guard Sam Brenner (neck), running back John White IV (ankle) and defensive end Joe Kruger (ankle) — also added to the disappointing end of Utah's four-game win streak.

White's injury prevented him from breaking the school's single-season rushing record before the home crowd. He wound up with 28 yards on 10 carries, surpassing Dameon Hunter for No. 2 on the list but 103 shy of Carl Monroe's 1982 mark of 1,507.

The overriding heartache, though, proved to be missed opportunities — in all facets of the game.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged a lot of issues came into play.

"But all that being said we still had a chance there at the end and we just couldn't find a way to get it done," he noted.

A 48-yard field-goal attempt by kicker Coleman Petersen, the Pac-12's reigning Special Teams Player of the Week, was wide right with two seconds remaining — sealing the outcome.

After climbing back into contention with consecutive touchdown drives in the third quarter, Utah's three fourth-quarter possessions ended with two uncharacteristic misses by Petersen and a fumble by running back Tauni Vakapuna.

Colorado, meanwhile, was forced to punt twice down the stretch and turned the ball over when Utah cornerback Reggie Topps picked off a pass early in the fourth quarter. The Utes, however, were unable to convert when Petersen was wide right on a 26-yard field goal attempt with 8:55 left in the game.

"That's football," Whittingham said. "You just come out and sometimes things go your way and sometimes they don't."

It didn't take long for the storylines to develop in this one.

Utah got off to an extremely unproductive start. Colorado opened the game by driving 80 yards on 12 plays to take a 7-0 advantage with 9:08 remaining in the first quarter. A 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tyler Hansen and a PAT from Will Oliver accounted for the scores.

Things could have gotten worse. After forcing the Utes to punt on their first possession, the Buffaloes marched downfield once again. On a 29-yard pass play from Hansen to Toney Clemons, Utah avoided giving up a touchdown when safety Brian Blechen forced a fumble on the 4-yard line and the ball rolled out of bounds for a touchback.

Colorado's lead swelled to 10-0 when Oliver made a 23-yard field goal with 7:09 left in the second quarter. The Buffaloes, at the time, held significant statistical edges — topping the Utes in yardage (234-17), first downs (12-0) and time of possession (18:07-4:44).

Utah drew a round of applause from the stunned crowd when White gave the Utes their initial first down on a 4-yard run with 2:56 remaining in the half. They had a chance to score earlier in the quarter, following a 29-yard punt return by Griff McNabb, but a 42-yard kick by Petersen was wide left.

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