In what became more of a war of attrition than anything, Colorado fell to Utah 23-17 in its final game as a member of the Pac-12.
The Buffs (4-8, 1-8 Pac-12) were without star quarterback Shedeur Sanders, who was ruled out earlier in the day Saturday due to arm and ankle injuries suffered in last week’s loss to Washington State. In his place, freshman Ryan Staub made his first career start against a Utes team that has had plenty of injury problems to deal with throughout the season.
Colorado moved the ball on the ground and through the air on its first series, but the drive stalled out when Staub was sacked and lost the ball, giving it to the Utes. Utah, whose quarterback Luke Bottari was making his first FBS start as well, leaned into the ground game and had success. The Utes (8-4, 5-4) controlled the clock and methodically moved the ball down the field, jumping out to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter.
That’s when the Buffs’ offense finally woke up. Staub led the Buffs down into Utah territory before playcaller Pat Shurmur dug into his bag of tricks for the first touchdown. Staub flipped a quick lateral out to receiver Jimmy Horn Jr., who then found running back Dylan Edwards downfield for a 30-yard score to get the Buffs on the board.
With the Buffs trailing 13-7 late in the first half, controversy hit. Staub found Travis Hunter deep down the right sideline for what seemed like a go-ahead touchdown right before half, but the officials overturned the catch to an incomplete pass upon review. The Buffs were forced to settle for three points before half as Alejandro Mata knocked a field goal through to make the score 13-10 Utah at the break.
In the third quarter, Utah got right back to controlling the clock and running the ball, capping off a 4-and-a-half minute drive with a Bottari rushing touchdown on a quarterback sneak to put the Utes in front by two scores. Former Buffs kicker Cole Becker extended the lead to 13 with a field goal, but CU wasn’t done fighting.
Early in the fourth, Staub led the Buffs all the way down the field, finding Horn for a big gain, converting a fourth down with a heave to Michael Harrison, and then ripping a laser over the middle to Hunter for an 18-yard score to get the Buffs back within reach.
In the end, however, the Utah offensive line was too much for Colorado to overcome. Hunter’s touchdown with 7:31 left on the clock was the last time the Buffs saw the ball, as the Utes continued to dominate up front and move the chains. On the back of its running game, Utah milked the rest of the clock to finish the regular season with a win on senior day.
Staub was impressive in his first career start, finishing the day 17 for 24 with 195 yards passing and a touchdown. Hunter was his favorite target with the freshman finding the two-way star eight times for 107 yards and a touchdown.
On the other side, Bottari wasn’t asked to do much, as he finished just 6 for 10 with 61 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Using a three-back committee of Sione Vaki, Ja’Quinden Jackson, and Jaylon Glover, Utah ran for 268 yards and consistently pushed the Colorado defensive line around. The Utes improve to 8-4, and will be headed to a bowl game next month.
Saturday’s loss was the Buffs’ sixth in a row, as they finish the season 4-8 and just 1-8 in Pac-12 play. They improved in Year 1 under Deion Sanders, but they now face a crucial offseason as they look to take another leap in Year 2.
UTAH: Luke Bottari 2-yard run (Cole Becker Kick) Utah 7-0, 4:03
UTAH: Cole Becker 34-yard Field Goal, Utah 10-0, 11:17
COLO: Jimmy Horn Jr. 30-yard pass to Dylan Edwards (Alejandro Mata Kick), Utah 10-7, 8:17
UTAH: Cole Becker 22-yard field goal, Utah 13-7, 1:38
COLO: Alejandro Mata 47-yard Field Goal, Utah 13-10, 0:20
UTAH: Luke bottari 1-yard run (Cole Becker Kick), Utah 20-10, 7:10
UTAH: Cole Becker 31-yard Field Goal, Utah 23-10, 11:32
COLO: Ryan Staub 18-yard pass to Travis Hunter (Alejandro Mata Kick), Utah 23-17, 7:31