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Buffs Fall At Utah In Season Finale

Nov 26, 2021
CU's Nikko Reed moves downfield en route to a 100-yard kick return for a touchdown Friday against Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — Colorado came up with big plays on defense and special teams Friday but the offense struggled and Utah wore CU down with a punishing run game as the Buffaloes dropped a 28-13 decision in their season finale at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Karl Dorrell's Buffs finished the season 4-8 overall and 3-6 in the Pac-12. Utah wrapped up its regular season at 9-3, 8-1, and will play in next Friday's conference championship game against the North Division winner.

The Buffs jumped out to a 3-0 lead after getting an interception from safety Mark Perry on the Utes' opening drive, and trailed by just one early in the third quarter when Nikko Reed's 100-yard kick return for a touchdown pulled Colorado to within 14-13.

But the Utes answered the kick return with two touchdowns on their next two possessions and CU's offense could never find the rhythm necessary to produce a trip to the end zone.

The injury-riddled Buffs were outgained 444-148, with Utah piling up 265 yards on the ground along with three touchdown passes from quarterback Cameron Rising. Colorado played without All-American linebacker Nate Landman for the fifth straight game.

Also absent from CU's lineup was leading rusher Jarek Broussard (illness), and the Buffs finished with 64 yards rushing and 84 yards passing. Quarterback Brendon Lewis was under pressure for much of the game and finished 9-for-23 for 84 yards while also absorbing four sacks. Alex Fontenot led CU in rushing with 28 yards on 10 carries.

Still, Colorado stayed within striking range for much of the game but could never get its offense untracked.

"I'm very proud of how this team fought," Dorrell said. "This team fought for 60 minutes and gave us everything they had."

HOW IT HAPPENED: Colorado struck first on the scoreboard, thanks to an interception from safety Perry on Utah's opening possession of the game.

Perry returned his third interception of the season 40 yards to the Utah 15-yard line. The Buffs offense couldn't move the ball, but CU still reaped a 33-yard Cole Becker field goal for a 3-0 lead less than three minutes into the game.

CU's defense and special teams then stepped up. The defense came up with a big stop on third down in Colorado territory, and Terrance Lang followed by blocking a Utah field goal attempt to maintain CU's 3-0 lead.

"It was a long drive, and we knew we needed to get off the field," Lang said. "Me and (Jalen) Sami, we looked at each other and we said, 'All we got, we're about to block this.' We really said that before the snap, and it happened."

Colorado had a chance to extend its lead on its next possession when the Buffs drove into Utah territory. Lewis had a 13-yard run on the drive and a 29-yard completion to Dimitri Stanley on third-and-8. But the drive stalled at the Utes 30 and a Becker 48-yard field goal try floated wide right.

Utah finally took control, scoring touchdowns on its next two possessions. The Utes got a 19-yard scoring pass from Rising to tight end Brant Kuithe for a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter, then bumped the margin to 14-3 when Rising found tight end Dalton Kincaid for a 19-yard scoring pass.

But CU's defense came up with a big stop later in the second quarter. After a Colorado punt following the Utes' second touchdown, CU's held on fourth down deep in Buffs territory. Rising kept the ball around the right side but linebacker Carson Wells stopped him short of the sticks. 

CU's offense then answered with a 39-yard drive in the final seconds of the half, getting a career-long 56-yard field goal from Becker as time expired. The Buffs converted two third downs on the drive on two Fontenot runs, and Becker's kick sent Colorado into intermission trailing just 14-6.

CU then needed just 15 seconds into the third quarter to cut the deficit to one. Reed took the opening kick of the half, broke three tackles early and raced 100 yards to the end zone. Becker's PAT pulled CU to within 14-13.

But the Utes regained control with back-to-back touchdown drives sandwiched around a CU punt. Tavion Thomas ran 12 yards for a score to cap a 68-yard Utah drive before Rising tossed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Britain Covey to give Utah a 28-13 lead with 6:45 to play in the third quarter to complete the scoring for the game.

Colorado's offense did manage to drive into Utah territory early in the fourth quarter before failing to convert a fourth-and-7. CU's defense answered with its own fourth-down stop on Utah's ensuing possession, but the offense couldn't take advantage and the Buffs punted back to the Utes and Wells came up with another big fourth-down play, pressuring Rising to force an incompletion.

"We feel like we're close," Dorrell said. "We feel like the foundation is set. But we need to quickly climb this mountain and make sure we're relevant."

TURNING POINT: Colorado had a first-and-10 at the Utah 32-yard line late in the first quarter while holding a 3-0 lead. But the Buffs couldn't move any farther and a Becker field goal try sailed wide right. The Utes then scored on their next two possessions and CU never led again.

KEY STATISTICS: Utah had 23 first downs to Colorado's nine, and outgained the Buffs 444-148 … CU finished with just 64 yards rushing while Utah had 265 on the ground … Colorado gave up four quarterback sacks and did not record one,

WHAT IT MEANS: The Buffs missed their last chance of the season to win back-to-back games.

TURNOVER RECORD: CU did not have a turnover for a school-record seventh time this year (the previous record was four). CU finished the season with just seven turnovers, also a school record, eclipsing the previous mark of 11 set in 1956. The seven turnovers are the second-fewest in the nation, trailing only Toledo's six. Toledo plays Akron on Saturday.

NOTEWORTHY: Freshman linebacker Devin Grant made his second start a good one, finishing with eight tackles, including two for loss … Reed's 100-yard kick return for a touchdown was the first by a Buff since Marques Mosley had a 100-yarder for a score against Utah in 2012 … Becker's 56-yard field goal was a career long and the longest by a freshman in CU history. The previous long by a freshman was a 54-yarder by Evan Price vs. Oregon State in 2016 … Tight end Brady Russell, who had two catches for 12 yards Saturday, finished the season with 25 receptions for 307 yards, both team highs. He is the first tight end to lead CU in receptions and yards since Riar Geer in 2006.

UP NEXT:  The Buffs open the 2022 season at home next Sept. 3 against TCU.

Contact: Neill.Woelk@Colorado.edu