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CU Buffs can’t keep up with No. 16 Utah in season finale

Colorado's offense struggles again in road loss

SALT LAKE CITY, UT –  NOVEMBER 26: Tavion Thomas #9 of the Utah Utes rushes the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes during their game November 26, 2021 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City , Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – NOVEMBER 26: Tavion Thomas #9 of the Utah Utes rushes the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes during their game November 26, 2021 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City , Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY – Karl Dorrell’s message on Friday wasn’t too different than it’s been after several other games this season.

“We didn’t play as well as we should have been able to play in a caliber of game like this,” Colorado’s head football coach said after a 28-13 loss to No. 16 Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium. “I don’t want to take anything away from Utah and they’re a really good team. We felt we had some opportunities to do some positive things, but unfortunately, we did not.”

This season was filled with unfortunate results for the Buffaloes (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12), who now head into the offseason after a fifth consecutive loss in what is not so commonly referred to as the “Rumble in the Rockies.”

While South division champion Utah (9-3, 8-1) will play next week in the conference title game, Dorrell will get started on next season, and he said he won’t take long in deciding on which changes will be made with the roster and staff.

“We’ll go in pretty quickly here,” he said. “I’m going to watch this game and like I normally do I watch all three phases. I’ll do that first thing and I’ll make my assessments as we go through the game and then go from there.

“Now that we don’t have another game, it’s gonna be all about what do we need to do moving forward. It’s starting that process pretty quickly.”

CU’s roster will go through a significant change in the coming weeks and it’s possible that changes to the coaching staff will be made, as well.

Prior to those changes, the Buffs got on the field one last time Friday and it was somewhat of a microcosm of this season. The defense and special teams made some plays to keep the Buffs in a game that they really had no business being in – at least on paper. But, the offense didn’t do much to help out, as the Buffs limped into the offseason.

Utah’s Cameron Rising threw three touchdown passes to lead the Utes, who didn’t dominate as expected, but pulled away in the third quarter and capped off another South title.

Already a 24-point underdog going in, the Buffs were without several of their top players but managed to hang with the Utes. Inside linebacker Nate Landman missed his fifth consecutive game and running back Jarek Broussard missed the game with a non-COVID illness.

The Buffs were also without receiver Brenden Rice, cornerback Mekhi Blackmon and outside linebacker Guy Thomas, among others.

“It was one of those games that with some players being down this week, some didn’t make the trip … we’re playing with not a lot of depth, but that’s kind of the nature of this game, though,” Dorrell said. “This game is like that at times when guys get sick or get hurt or something like that or you’re thin in spots and you have to rise up to the occasion. We ended up not being as strong as we could have. But I felt very proud of how this team fought. This team fought for 60 minutes and gave us everything they had.”

On defense, the Buffs got an early interception from safety Mark Perry, a blocked field goal and a pair of fourth-down stops to limit the Utes’ offense.

Perry picked off a Rising pass on the fourth play of the game and returned it 40 yards to set up a 33-yard field goal from Cole Becker.

“I think early on it gave us some energy,” Perry said. “Coming out, the first drive, get a takeaway, the offense gets points on the board. We come out the next drive and just keep fighting. I think that next drive was a missed field goal. Showing the fight of the team, just keep fighting.”

CU held that 3-0 lead until the second quarter when the Utes got their offense in gear. The Utes scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions, with Rising connecting with his tight ends both times. First, he hit Brant Kuithe for a 19-yard touchdown and then Dalton Kincaid for a 28-yard score.

Special teams then came through for the Buffs.

Becker drilled a 56-yard field goal on the final play of the first half. Then, on the kickoff to open the third quarter, Nikko Reed fielded the ball about three yards deep in the end zone, broke a tackle and sprinted to the end zone for the eighth 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in program history.

Suddenly, CU was within 14-13, but the Utes didn’t waste much time in changing that. They cranked up the run game and scored touchdowns on back-to-back possessions to increase the lead to 28-13 midway through the third quarter.

The Utes coasted from there, with the Buffs unable to really threaten them on offense. The best scoring chance for the Buffs in the second half came early in the fourth quarter when they drove to the Utah 26-yard line. They gained just three yards on the next three plays, though, and then Brendon Lewis’ fourth-down pass fell incomplete.

CU finished with just 148 total yards – the fourth time this season they’ve finished a game with less than 200.

“Offensively, we just struggled getting rhythm; trying to get into a rhythm to do anything positive,” Dorrell said.

With that, the Buffs close the book on a 2021 season that was frustrating and disappointing but at least left Dorrell feeling positive about the future.

“Everybody (on the team) feels we’re heading in the right direction,” Dorrell said. “Everyone feels that we have that foundation that’s set to build on moving forward. And it’s unfortunate; I would love to have started the offseason with winning this game and kind of using that as juice to kind of get some things going for us in a positive way into the offseason. But there’s enough of a good feel on this team that we feel that we’re close; we do. We feel like we’re close.”

Utah 28, Colorado 13

Play of the game: Freshman Nikko Reed, on the first kickoff return of his career, took the kickoff to open the third quarter and raced 100 yards for a touchdown. It was just the eighth 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown in CU history.

Turning point: Reed’s return woke up the Utes, who responded with a seven-play, 68-yard touchdown drive, regaining momentum with a 21-13 lead.

Top 3 Buffs of the game

1. CB Nikko Reed: He left the game early with an injury, but his kickoff return for TD gives him the nod here. He also had three tackles on defense and was solid in coverage.

2. S Mark Perry: Continued his strong play in the second half of the season. He had six tackles, an interception and a pass breakup.

3. PK Cole Becker: He made two field goals, including a career-long 56-yarder.

No. 16 Utah 28, Colorado 13

Colorado 3 3 7 0 — 13 Utah 0 14 14 0 — 28

First Quarter: COLO — FG Becker 33, 12:32. Second Quarter: UTAH — Kuithe 19 pass from Rising (Redding kick), 12:23. UTAH — Kincaid 28 pass from Rising (Redding kick), 8:08. COLO — FG Becker 56, :00. Third Quarter: COLO — Reed 100 kickoff return (Becker kick), 14:45. UTAH — T.Thomas 12 run (Redding kick), 12:08. UTAH — Covey 13 pass from Rising (Redding kick), 6:45. A — 51,538.

COLO UTAH First downs 9 23Total Net Yards 148 444Rushes-yards 32-64 45-265Passing 84 179Punt Returns 1-14 4-31Kickoff Returns 3-124 1-29Interceptions Ret. 1-40 0-0Comp-Att-Int 9-23-0 14-23-1Sacked-Yards Lost 4-32 0-0Punts 5-46.6 2-35.0Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0Penalties-Yards 4-25 2-20Time of Possession 25:53 34:07


RUSHING — Colorado, Fontenot 10-28, D.Smith 6-19, B.Lewis 14-15, Stanley 1-2, Arias 1-0. Utah, Thomas 25-142, Pledger 13-103, Rising 4-17, Covey 2-4, (Team) 1-(minus 1).

PASSING — Colorado, B.Lewis 9-23-0-84. Utah, Rising 14-23-1-179.

RECEIVING — Colorado, Stanley 3-48, Russell 2-12, Arias 1-9, Fontenot 1-6, Lynch 1-6, Carpenter 1-3. Utah, Covey 5-72, Kincaid 4-55, Kuithe 2-35, Bernard 2-5, Enis 1-12.

MISSED FIELD GOALS — Colorado, Becker 48. Utah, Redding 37.