SALT LAKE CITY — If the 19th-ranked Utah Utes defeat Colorado Saturday at Folsom Field in Boulder, the only thing keeping them from reaching the Pac-12 Championship Game for the first time is Arizona State. In that scenario, the Sun Devils can claim the South Division crown with season-ending victories at both Oregon and Arizona.
Utah (7-3, 5-3), meanwhile, is somewhat relishing the pressure associated with the circumstances. Despite losing starters Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss to injuries, the Utes bounced back from a 38-20 loss at ASU to defeat Oregon 32-25.
"I think our team plays best when our team has a chip on their shoulder,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “When they feel they have something to prove, our guys seem to handle it pretty well.”
After opening Pac-12 play with back-to-back losses to Washington (21-7) and Washington State (28-24), the Utes reeled off wins over Stanford (40-21), Arizona (42-10), USC (41-28) and UCLA (41-10). Then came the ASU and Oregon games.
"Credit to our players because they have played hard all year long. We haven't been perfect. We have stumbled along the way but they are resilient and they keep coming back,” Whittingham said. “We got down to Oregon when they came back and took the lead, but it didn't faze us and we took the ball right down the field and scored. That is a trademark of this team this season — to be able to respond to adversity and play with resiliency."
The ride isn’t quite over. The Utes head to Colorado with a division title still in play as they complete conference play. Whittingham acknowledged there are implications on both sides. The Buffaloes (5-5, 2-5) are celebrating Senior Day and need a win to become bowl eligible.
“So, we need to have another very good week of practice and then go over to Colorado and play like we are capable,” he said.
Defensive tackle Leki Fotu said the Utes are up for the challenge. They’ve adopted a “next man up” mentality when it comes to rallying around quarterback Jason Shelley and running back Armand Shyne, the new starters in place of Huntley and Moss.
“Everybody has to step up,” Fotu said. “No matter what your role is on the team.”
Fotu explained that it’s going to be tough, but noted that Shelley and Shyne stepped up to help them out and move forward.
“This year we’ve just been focusing on the next game, especially coming down to this game. We’re not taking it as just any other game,” he added. “This is a big game for us. Our focus is mainly on Colorado and (then) whatever happens after that.”
Shyne, who rushed for 174 yards against Oregon, is confident the Utes will do what they’ve got to do in their final road trip of the season,
“We’re just focusing on getting this game done, winning this game, so we can always look to the bigger picture,” Shyne said.8 comments on this story
That scene could include roses if everything falls into place. That, however, is a conversation for another day. Same goes for next week’s regular-season finale against rival BYU.
Senior linebacker Cody Barton joked that he didn’t know what game was after Colorado. He said the Utes will just have to wait and see.
The latter may be the case if Utah prevails and the Utes watch for Oregon or Arizona to knock off ASU.
No. 19/21 Utah (7-3, 5-3) at Colorado (5-5, 2-5)
- Folsom Field — Boulder
- Saturday, 11:30 a.m. (MT)
- TV: Pac-12 Networks
- Radio: ESPN 700AM