No. 6 Utah takes down Colorado 45-15 to win Pac-12 South division
For the second consecutive year, the Utes are heading west to Santa Clara for the Pac-12 championship game.
Led by tight Brant Kuithe's three touchdowns and quarterback Tyler Huntley's efficient night, the Utes wrapped up the Pac-12 south division crown with their 45-15 win over Colorado on Saturday night.
"We played well this evening once we got going," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "We had a slow start. ... The first quarter there wasn’t much accomplished. We just had to get some momentum and we really got going in the second half."
Kuithe finished with three catches for 63 yards and two scores, while adding two carries for 59 yards and a score. Both of his first half touchdowns were big, as the first came with the Utes trailing 7-0, and the second came late in the half to give Utah a lead it wouldn't give up.
“We just had to find a way to get him the ball," Huntley said of his sophomore pass-catcher. "That is what it led to, we had to get him the ball because he is a playmaker and we have a lot of playmakers on the offense.”
Huntley was his typical efficient self, finishing 14-of-17 for 165 yards and two touchdown. But what made him most impressive tonight was his ability to extend plays with his legs while looking downfield to throw the ball, as both his touchdowns came on plays where he avoided sacks, and instead of taking off to run, he found Kuithe open for the score.
The Utes found themselves in a hole early on, struggling throughout the first quarter and being held scoreless. At the same time, the Buffaloes found some traction with Laviska Shenault Jr. doing the damage as a pass-catcher and rusher.
Shenault helped Colorado drive down the field, before Steven Montez Jr. found Brady Russell for the score and early lead, the first time Utah has trailed since it was losing 3-0 to to UCLA three week ago.
"It was cold," Huntley said of the slow start while laughing. "It was probably like 12 degrees and it was cold. ... Really it was just a matter of warming up.”
And warm up did they. Not only did the offense reel off 31 consecutive points between the second and third quarters, the defense shut out the Buffaloes throughout that same time period.
"That was a good football team we played and they had a lot to play for playing for a bowl game so we got their best shot," Whittingham said. "It was good to see us take control of the game in the second half and close them out."
After Kuithe's first touchdown tied the game early in the second quarter, the Utes took the lead for good when Huntley found Kuithe on a designed rollout for a 7 yard score — which followed a 44 yard rush by Kuithe the play before.
Utah led 17-7 at the half following a Jaydon Redding 23-yard field goal.
The second half so the Utes defense seize complete control, as Colorado was unable to get the offense going running or throwing the ball.
"I knew it was going to be a physical game and we were able to match that," Colorado coach Mel Tucker said. "That was not an issue for us. It was more about execution."
Colorado came into the game wanting to establish the run, considering they were averaging 158.5 yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry. But Leki Fotu and Bradlee Anae had other days, holding the Buffaloes to 60 yards rushing on 1.9 yards per carry.
"We all came in with the same attitude and the same mentality but as a defense we don’t feel like we were successful in this game," Anae said. "They scored twice and they weren't supposed to score at all. That’s our mentality every game no matter who it is so we just need to get better as a defense.”
Running back Devin Brumfield started Utah's scoring in the second half with a rushing touchdwon before Demari Simpkins, playing for the final time at Rice-Eccles Stadium, took a punt back 66 yards for a score.
“It felt good and I feel blessed," Simpkins said. "I always knew I had it in me and I just had to wait for the perfect look. I had perfect blocks from the return unit and it just all worked out.”
Moss and Kuithe added rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
Utah now turns its attention to Oregon, who defeated Oregon State 24-10 earlier Saturday, in the Pac-12 Championship game on Friday. It's a quick turn around for the Utes, but Whittingham knows how team will be ready.
"Monday is more like a Tuesday and Tuesday is more like a Wednesday. ... You just have to get a day ahead." Whittingham said. "We’ll have some meetings tomorrow night to get ready for that. ... We’ve done it before so we have a plan for it. Oregon is on the same schedule so it’s equal footing for both teams.”