BOULDER, Colo.—In five trips to No. 9 Colorado’s red zone, No. 22 Utah came away with just one touchdown in the two teams’ season finale. The Buffaloes (10-2, 8-1 Pac-12) clinched the Pac-12 South division championship with the 27-22 over the Utes (8-4, 5-4 Pac-12).
“That’s the difference in the game. Bottom line,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham, when asked about the offensive stagnation in the red zone.
Despite a fumble recovery in Colorado territory, Utah was unable to convert its second possession into any yards, forcing the second of six Mitch Wishnowsky punts.
Boobie Hobbs picked up his team after the Utes forced a stop, returning a Colorado punt 55 yards for a touchdown, but that was the last time the visiting team would find the end zone until the last minutes of the game.
Utah searched downfield for big play options several times in the game, with senior receiver Tim Patrick at the end of long Troy Williams passing attempts. But an uncharacteristic series of drops, including one just short of the end zone with a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, left Patrick and his teammates frustrated and disappointed.
“This one hurts,” said Patrick, who wasn’t focused on his five total catches and 78 yards receiving. “I played the worst game of my life.”
Cory Butler-Byrd caught a Troy Williams pass for 30 yards, bringing Utah inside the ten-yard line, but the offense stalled, forcing Andy Phillips to kick a field goal, bringing the score to 13-10 with 11:54 in the 3rd quarter.
Utah’s defense forced a Colorado punt, but Joe Williams’ 12-yard run to the CU 2-yard line resulted in a lost fumble.
Ute defensive end Chris Hart recovered CU quarterback Sefo Liufau’s fumble nine plays later, and Butler-Byrd rushed 41 yards on a reverse to the Buffaloes 8-yard line. Again, Utah’s offense was stuffed, and Phillips kicked his second field goal, tying the game at 13.
Following Colorado’s touchdown on the next drive via a Liufau six-yard pass to Shay Fields, Utah kick returner Kyle Fulks returned a kickoff 93 yards to the Colorado 3-yard line. Troy Williams was stopped on a quarterback run and two incomplete passes, forcing Phillips to another field goal, giving further energy and momentum to the Buffaloes defense and sell-out crowd.
The Utes’ ship sank when Joe Williams lost his second fumble deep inside Utah territory, and Kenneth Olugbode returned the ball ten yards to the end zone. With little time left and an ice-cold offense, Utah was in catch-up mode.
But as Utah has done a handful of times in key, late-game situations, the offense drove 13 plays for 80 yards in rhythm to a touchdown, when Troy Williams found freshman receiver Demari Simpkins on a fade route to the corner pylon. Utah’s ensuing two-point conversion attempt failed, as did the following onside kick attempt.
Colorado converted a first down, and Liufau took a handful of victory-formation kneel-downs as thousands of fans rushed the field, celebrating the school’s first Pac-12 South championship.
“We’re excited that we have a chance to play together one more time,” Whittingham said after the game. “I told them how proud I was of them. That’s a very mentally and physically tough group of guys in that locker room. It’s just a shame the season ended how it did.”
The Buffaloes will face the Washington Huskies in the Pac-12 Championship Game next week in Santa Clara, California.
Utah finished the season at 8-4, and will await word on a bowl invitation.
Kyle Whittingham Utah Sports Radio Network Postgame:
Troy Williams Network Postgame:
Tim Patrick Network Postgame:
Boobie Hobbs Network Postgame: