Plenty is at stake for both teams when Utah and Colorado renew their annual rivalry in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
The No. 6 Utes (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) can clinch a second straight Pac-12 South title with a victory and battle Oregon for the overall Pac-12 championship and a potential spot in the College Football Playoff. For the Buffaloes, an upset victory over their Rocky Mountain rivals would mean reaching a bowl game for the first time since 2016.
Utah is the Pac-12’s last remaining hope for earning a playoff spot after Oregon fell to Arizona State last weekend. The Utes appear to be in a good position to rise up and grab one of those four spots. But they need one more win to assure a return trip to the league championship game.
“It has been a very good season so far, but we are not losing focus,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We have more work ahead of us, not just this game. It is the game we are focusing on right now, but there are things we have to take care of.”
Few teams have dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage at the same level that Utah has done this season.
The Utes lead the nation in rushing defense, allowing just 55.9 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry. They have held nine opponents to 70 or fewer rushing yards – the first FBS team since 2008 to accomplish that feat.
On offense, Utah leads the Pac-12 in rushing offense with 215.3 yards per game. The Utes posted a season-high 297 rushing yards in a 35-7 win over Arizona last Saturday.
Zack Moss is a big driving force behind that production. Moss has accumulated 1,158 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground through 10 games. He became the first Utes player to have three 1,000-yard rushing seasons when he ran for a season-high 203 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against the Wildcats.
“It seems like we’re getting stronger while a lot of guys are getting weaker,” Moss said.
Colorado could make a similar claim. The Buffaloes (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12) have won two straight games with improved defense. They held Washington to just 238 total yards in a 20-14 win over the Huskies last Saturday. That marked a season-low for any Colorado opponent.
On the other side of the ball, the Buffaloes rushed for 207 yards and averaged 5.04 yards per carry. That was their most productive game in the backfield since piling up 243 rushing yards in the season opener against Colorado State.
“It is important to be able to run the ball on your terms, when you want to run it and when you need to run,” Buffaloes coach Mel Tucker said. “When everybody in the stadium knows you are going to run it, you still have to slam it up in there.”
Colorado faces a major challenge running on its own terms against Utah. For the Buffaloes, success may come down to how much receivers like Laviska Shenault and Tony Brown can do downfield.
Shenault carries plenty of positive momentum into Saturday’s game. He posted his eighth career 100-yard receiving game and finished with 117 all-purpose yards against the Huskies. Brown has also had a pair of 100-yard receiving games this season against Arizona and Arizona State. The receiving duo has combined for 1,419 yards and nine touchdowns on 107 catches over 11 games.
Utah has won two straight in the series with Colorado and six of eight overall since both teams renewed their rivalry upon joining the Pac-12 in 2011. The Buffaloes, who lead the overall series 32-30-3, are seeking their first win in Salt Lake City since 2011.
–Field Level Media