Colorado v. Utah – A Preview
“No one likes to lose their last game,” said Jon Embree Tuesday.
Eight CU seniors, plus three fourth-year juniors, know that the game Friday against Utah will be their last game (there may be others, but it will be these 11 who will be honored in a pregame ceremony). It will the last time these players will wear the black-and-gold, and run out behind Ralphie (let’s just hope they don’t look out to the south as they come out, as there will be, in all likelihood, a sea of empty seats in the bowl of Folsom Field).
It is also Utah’s last game, but at several points this season, it did not appear that the Utes would be home for the holidays. Utah fared well in non-conference play, going 2-1. However, just as was the case in 2011, the Utes first season in the Pac-12, Utah stumbled out of the gate in conference play, starting 0-4. Then, though, just like in 2011, the Utes rebounded. defeating Cal and Washington State, giving Utah a 4-5 record and renewed hopes of making its tenth straight bowl appearance.
Sadly for Utah fans, though, Utah lost its last two games, falling at Washington, 34-15, before losing at home to Arizona, 34-24, last weekend. With a 4-7 overall record, Friday’s game is also the last of the season for the Utes.
So, neither team has a bowl game to play for … the first time a season-ending game in Boulder does not have bowl implications for at least one of the teams since a 2-7-1 Kansas State team came to Boulder to face a 1-9 Colorado team to close out the 1984 season (for the record, Kansas State won the game, 38-6 … and still fired its coach, Jim Dickey).
Which team will find enough motivation to get the job done this weekend?
This week’s “T.I.P.S.” help show the way …
T – Talent
Well, at least the Buffs won’t have to face Jordan Wynn.
Wynn, the Utah quarterback who was a CU commit until he changed his mind and de-committed, could have been the latest quaterback to have a successful day against Colorado. Wynn could have served just another reminder of how the Colorado coaching staffs over the past few seasons have failed to recruit a quality quarterback. Instead, Wynn will be on the sidelines, perfecting his new craft – coaching. Wynn medically retired after being injured the second game this season. Wynn, who started the last four seasons at quarterback for Utah - but never finished one – will be on the sidelines at Hawai’i next fall, having been hired by his former offensive coordinator, Norm Chow (now the head coach of the Warriors) to be Hawai’i's quarterbacks coach.
In Wynn’s place at quarterback for the Utes is true freshman Travis Wilson, who has started the last six games. Wilson has gone 2-4 as starter, and has completed 64% of his passes this fall. Wilson, who is 6’6″, 230-pounds, can also be an effective runner, having scored three rushing touchdowns this season. Wilson will be coming to Boulder after having posted his best numbers of the season last Saturday against Arizona, completing 28-of-40 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns.
While Wilson has demonstrated he can throw the ball effectively, Utah would rather run at you than pass over you. Senior running back John White, who was injured during the Buffs’ 17-14 upset win in Salt Lake City last November, leads the Utes this fall with 873 yards on 198 attempts (a 4.4 yards per carry average). Of White’s team-best seven rushing touchdowns, six have come in the last four games. Oh, and there is this … if White can collect 127 yards rushing against Colorado, he will become the first back in Utah history to rush for over 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons (incentive alert!).
Travis Wilson’s primary targets, when he does throw the ball, are sophomore Dres Anderson, who has 35 catches (for 349 yards) and Jake Murphy, who has 32 catches (for 351 yards).
Overall, though, Utah has not been an offensive power. The Utes are 96th in passing offense, 97th in rushing offense, and 108th in total offense.
When Utah wins, it’s because of its defense.
The name Buff fans do not want to hear over the Folsom Field PA system is Star Lotulelei. The senior defensive tackle may be the best defensive tackle in the nation (Lotulelei was named to at least three mid-season first-team All-American teams). Lotulelei has 36 tackles, including a team-leading nine tackles for loss and four sacks. He also has three pass breakups.
If the Buffs can handle Lotulelei and his defensive linemates – a big chore, Utah is ranked 26th in the nation in rushing defense – there may be some room just past the line of scrimmage. Utah has started eight different players at linebacker this season.
The Utah secondary is led by Brian Blechen, a freshman All-American at safety in 2010, and Eric Rowe, a freshman All-American at safety in 2011.
One player Buff fans might hope to see (at least trying field goals instead of extra points) is kicker Coleman Petersen. Buff fans remember that Colorado won in Salt Lake City last November, 17-14. What Buff fans might have forgotten is that Petersen missed three field goal attempts in that game, including a 48-yarder to tie the game with two seconds to play.
I – Intangibles
Neither team has anything to play for Friday but pride.
Will Utah, which has been bowl-eligible every season since 2002, treat the game as bowl game?
When asked if Friday’s season-finale at Colorado would be treated like a bowl game, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made his stance clear.
“Absolutely not. This is not a bowl game. It’s a regular-season game,” Whittingham said while noting that it isn’t his philosophy or belief to pretend or make something up. “It’s another chance, another opportunity in the regular season to win a game.”
Any other thoughts, he added, aren’t even being thought about remotely.
“Of course we’re not happy with the situation we’re in right now. But it’s something we have to live with. There’s nothing we can do now,” said junior defensive lineman Tenny Palepoi. “Like coach said, ‘This isn’t a bowl game for us — it’s just a regular-season game.’ For us, it’s just finishing the season off right and ending it on a good note rather than dwelling on what happened.”
CU head coach Jon Embree is also down-playing the finale.
“You come out and you play with emotion and all of that, but at some point you have to settle down and keep playing,” he said.
So, does either team have an edge?
Well, there is this … Last season Colorado went into Rice-Eccles Stadium with 28 seniors and a chip on their shoulder – a 23-game road losing streak. This season, Colorado has eight seniors (and three fourth-year juniors – Zach Grossnickle, DaVaughn Thornton, and Jarrod Darden – who are not being asked back for the 2013 season). Meanwhile, Utah will have 25 seniors playing their last game.
P – Preparation / Schedule
Some 2012 Utah notes worth noting for this Friday’s game …
Utah is 0-5 on the road this season (Of course, Colorado is 0-5 at home).
Utah is 0-2 in games played this fall on natural grass.
The Utes have played only two afternoon games this season, going 1-1.
Each team played at home last weekend, and each has had six days to prepare for the Friday afternoon game. Neither team has any games left (theoretically, Utah could be invited to a bowl game, even with a 5-7 record. The NCAA allows for same if there are not enough 6-6 teams who qualify for bowls. The Military Bowl and Independence Bowl may be shopping for a 5-7 team, but Utah head coach Kyle Willingham has indicated he is not interested in such a bowl scenario, while Utah athletic director Chris Hill has never been a fan of just sending teams to bowl games for the sake of going bowling because it’s often a losing proposition unless the team is in a major bowl game).
So, unless something strange happens in the next few days, Friday afternoon is the end of the line for both teams. Colorado won’t play again until next September’s Rocky Mountain Showdown against Colorado State, while Utah will open at home next September against Utah State.
S – Statistics
Here’s the only stat you really need to know: Utah is 3-0 in games this season in which they led at halftime … and 0-7 in games in which they trailed at halftime.
That being said, Colorado has held the lead only once at halftime this season, and that was a 14-9 lead over Colorado State in the opener.
The second quarter of Friday’s game could be the key. Colorado has been out-scored 183-62 in the second quarter this season, while Utah has had some its greatest success in the second quarter, out-scoring opponents, 90-72.
The above numbers might help keep Buff fans from remembering the fact that Colorado is ranked 100th or worse in 11-of-17 major categories kept by the NCAA (the Buffs are 99th in passing offense, so it’s almost 12).
If you want to have something to cheer for, there are three categories in which Colorado is 120th in the nation – dead last – in hopes that Friday the Buffs might rise above that ranking. With a decent game, and some help from other teams, the Buffs might rise above dead last in scoring offense, pass efficiency defense, and scoring defense.
(I can’t help you with pass efficiency defense calculations, but I can tell you that West Virginia is 119th in pass efficiency defense).
As for scoring offense, Colorado only needs to score two more points against Utah than Idaho scores against Utah State to avoid the basement.
As for scoring defense, it gets a little trickier. The Buffs are giving up 46.36 points per game. West Virginia (you know, the No. 5 team in the nation six weeks ago) still has two games to play (against Iowa State and Kansas), and is ranked 119th, giving up 42.3 points per game. Go Cyclones and Jayhawks …?
Ya take what you can get when you are one of the worst teams in Division 1-A …
Can the Buffs rally, like they did for the seniors against Arizona last season?
Can the Buffs surprise the Utes, like they did last season in Salt Lake City?
Wouldn’t it be nice …
Utah 34, Colorado 10