SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah enters its regular-season finale against Colorado on the cusp of claiming a spot in the Pac-12 title game and with its hopes of making the College Football Playoff still alive.
The sixth-ranked Utes (10-1, 7-1 Pac-12) just need a victory over the Buffaloes (5-6, 3-5) on Saturday to clinch an outright Pac-12 South title for the second straight season. A Colorado win, on the other hand, would secure bowl eligibility for the Buffaloes for the first time since 2016, open the door for USC to face Oregon in the league title game and effectively end the Utes’ playoff aspirations.
If Utah is feeling any pressure over the stakes of this game, the Utes aren’t showing it.
Since losing to the Trojans in September, Utah has allowed 61 total points over seven games and held three opponents under 200 total yards. Offensively, the Utes have produced more than 500 yards against four opponents.
“It seems like we’re getting stronger while a lot of guys are getting weaker,” running back Zack Moss said.
Utah’s strength continues to be its run defense. The Utes have held nine opponents to 70 or fewer rushing yards this season, becoming the first FBS team to accomplish that feat since TCU did it in 2008. Teams facing Utah’s defense are averaging just 2.3 yards per carry.
“It starts with guys flying to the ball from every position,” linebacker Devin Lloyd said. “When you get there, you want to make them pay. You want to make them feel you every chance you get.”
An improved run defense has positioned Colorado to be a potential spoiler against the Utes. The Buffaloes allowed a season-low 32 rushing yards against Washington last week and are giving up 79.5 yards per game on the ground over their last two games.
Before its current two-game winning streak, Colorado had allowed 200 or more rushing yards three times over a seven-game span.
The Buffaloes are trying to carve out a rugged physical identity on both sides of the ball. First-year coach Mel Tucker respects the Utes for how well they already do it.
“Tough, physical, hard-nosed football is how I believe the game was meant to be played. That’s the essence and purity of the game is the physicality of it all,” Tucker said. “When you turn on the film with Utah, that’s what you see.”
Tight end Brant Kuithe is quickly becoming Utah’s most versatile receiving threat. The sophomore has totaled 213 yards and a touchdown over the Utes’ last two games.
He had his first career 100-yard game after piling up a career-high 132 yards and a touchdown on five receptions against UCLA. Kuithe followed up with 81 yards on four catches against Arizona. He also ran for a pair of touchdowns against the Wildcats.
His uptick in production has helped Kuithe become Utah’s leading receiver with 487 yards and four touchdowns on 26 catches.
“He’s always been athletic, nothing has changed in that regard, but he’s a guy that is a weapon for us right now,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “The last two games he has really started to emerge. He’s talented and talent usually rises to the surface at some point.”
MAKING A MARK
Steven Montez already owns 30 career records and has tied 16 others at Colorado. He can add a couple more to the list Saturday.
The senior quarterback needs just 77 passing yards and 37 yards of total offense to become Colorado’s all-time leader in both categories. Montez currently has 9,492 passing yards and 10,472 total yards on offense for his career, trailing only Sefo Liufau in both categories.
Montez threw for 223 yards and a touchdown against Washington, just his second 200-yard game in the last six contests for the Buffaloes.
Bradlee Anae is closing in on another defensive record at Utah.
Anae is the school’s career sack yardage leader with 200 yards. At 28 career sacks, the senior needs just two sacks to overtake Hunter Dimick as Utah’s career sacks leader. Anae ranks in the top five nationally with 11 sacks this season.
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