It was a great way to end the regular season. And now we sit back and see where and who we will be playing. —Kyle Whittingham
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah didn’t just become bowl eligible with Saturday’s 34-13 win over Colorado at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes also added running back Zack Moss to an elite club. The sophomore topped 1,000 yards rushing on the season, making him just the 14th player in team history to reach the milestone.
Moss ran for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns en route to stampeding the Buffaloes.
“I just wanted to will this team to a win. Coach (Kyle) Whittingham told us all week what type of team we would be facing,” Moss said. “They give up a lot of yards on the ground and so I just prepared myself watching extra film and locked in during practice so I could do what it takes for this team.”
The Utes (6-6, 3-6) wound up with 491 yards of total offense (10 on the ground) and 29 first downs. They played without quarterback Tyler Huntley, who had difficulty throwing the ball after the Washington loss on Nov. 18. Senior Troy Williams stepped in and performed well. He passed for 181 yards and ran for two scores.
“Yesterday after practice, (offensive coordinator) Troy Taylor came up to me and said Tyler Huntley was a little banged up,” Williams said. “I just wanted to get in and help my team get a victory.”
Mission accomplished as Utah reached bowl eligibility for the fourth straight year.
“I think he is one of the best leaders there is. To go through what he has gone through, his play showed today,” said senior receiver Darren Carrington II, who made a team-high six catches. “When your number is called, you have to step up like he did. Being a captain, he’s a professional. Whenever his number is called you are going to get the best out of him.”
Whittingham was pleased with how the offense, defense and kicker Matt Gay (two field goals, four PATs) performed.
“It was a great way to end the regular season,” Whittingham said. “And now we sit back and see where and who we will be playing.”
Although Utah athletics director Chris Hill confirmed that the program will receive an invitation, it remains to be seen where the Utes will go bowling. The destination may not be made public until Sunday.
A sampling of media projections indicates a variety of possibilities. The Pac-12 has nine bowl eligible teams and seven arrangements. Thus, the conference is lining up games for the two other qualifiers this year — working to fill slots that leagues couldn’t fill with bowl-eligible squads.
CBSSports.com has Utah going to the Texas Bowl (Dec. 27) to take on Kansas State. ESPN.com’s Kyle Bonagura is picking the Utes to play Houston in the Birmingham Bowl (Dec. 23), while his colleague David Hale has them headed to the Independence Bowl (Dec. 27) and a meeting with Boston College. Another prediction, from CollegeFootballNews.com, has Utah paired against Texas Tech in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
EXTRA POINTS: Sophomore running back Devonta’e Henry-Cole rushed for a career-best 79 yards on nine carries. Junior linebacker Cody Barton led the Utes with 10 tackles. He also had two sacks and a fumble recovery. Defensive end Bradlee Anae finished with eight stops, including three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The sophomore also forced a fumble . Senior defensive tackle Filipo Mokofisi teamed with Anae on a sack, while senior linebacker Kavika Luafatasaga did so on a tackle behind the line of scrimmage. The Utes finished with seven pass breakups. Saturday’s announced attendance was 46,022.