BOULDER, Colo. — Although the 19th-ranked Utah Utes came here to win a Pac-12 South championship, they won’t know if a victory over Colorado will get the job done for several hours.
The Utes, in fact, are scheduled to be back in Salt Lake City in plenty of time to watch a pivotal late-night game on television between Arizona State and Oregon. They will, no doubt, be cheering for the Ducks.
A combination of wins by Utah and Oregon would send the Utes to the Pac-12 championship game for the first time. There are other scenarios in play, but that’s the only one that could end the race on Saturday.
“It would be an awesome way to finish off the (conference) season, obviously,” said senior linebacker Chase Hansen. “It would be an awesome way to finish off my Pac-12 experience in general.”
Despite all the possibilities, the Utes (7-3, 5-3) are focused — first and foremost — on getting past the Colorado (5-5, 2-5). The Buffaloes started the season with wins over Colorado State (45-13), Nebraska (33-28), New Hampshire (45-14), UCLA (38-16) and Arizona State (28-21). Then came losses to USC (31-20), Washington (27-13), Oregon State (41-34, OT), Arizona (42-34) and Washington State (31-7).
"Well, their level of competition went up. They had a good win against Arizona State early and then they ran into some really tough teams,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “Their primary playmaker went down, but like I've said there are no excuses for injuries, and you just have to move forward."
Sophomore receiver Laviska Shenault has 70 catches despite missing three games with injury. Junior quarterback Steven Montez has passed for 2,595 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. The duo teamed for 10 receptions last week against Washington State.
Shenault is the third consecutive elite receiver Utah has faced. ASU’s N’Keal Harry had nine catches in a win over the Utes. The next week, Oregon’s Dillon Mitchell made eight receptions.
Whittingham noted that the Utes could use cornerback Jaylon Johnson to shadow top receivers on a more consistent basis.
"That is something that we always have in our arsenal if we choose to go that way. I am sure you will see it again this season, but we certainly aren't going to tip our hand in what we are going to do week to week,” Whittingham said. “But it is great to have the ability to have a guy like him and Julian Blackmon. That is a great weapon to have a shutdown corner."
It could prove to be critical against a Colorado passing game that ranks fourth in the Pac-12 with 266.3 yards per game. The Buffaloes are sixth in pass efficiency offense (141.18 rating), total offense (419.7 yards) and scoring offense (29.7 points).
The Utes enter the game with a defense that is second in scoring defense (19.7 points) and third in total defense (323.7 yards).
Offensively, Utah enters its second game without quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss. Replacing the injured starters, once again, is Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne. The pair are primed for encores after solid performances in the victory over Oregon.
Offensive coordinator Troy Taylor noted that the scheme is working because of execution and confidence. The Utes have moved up in the Pac-12 rankings. They’re second in rushing offense (205 yards), fourth in scoring offense (30.5 points) and fifth in total offense (427 yards).
“Guys understand the system a little bit better and they’re playing well with confidence,” Taylor said.15 comments on this story
Speaking of which, senior kicker Matt Gay is on a roll with 18 consecutive field goals made. The Utes have made an impact in all three phases, save the loss at ASU, in winning five of their last six games.
“This team enjoys what they are doing,” Whittingham said. “They’ve got a good attitude and a good personality to them. I really like the personality of this team.”
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Utes on the air
No. 19/21 Utah (7-3, 5-3)
at Colorado (5-5, 2-5)
Folsom Field — Boulder, Colo.
Saturday, 11:30 a.m.
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Radio: ESPN 700AM