SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — This was not the season Utah dreamt of in August as the players and coaching staff had aspirations of winning a Pac-12 South division title and earning a chance at a conference championship. The Utes, however, were all smiles Saturday after finishing the regular season with a .500 record.
Zack Moss ran for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns as Utah defeated Colorado 34-13 in the regular-season finale to earn win No. 6 and officially become bowl eligible.
“It takes some of the sting out of a frustrating season,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “This team was close. They’re fighters. As frustrating as some of those losses were, to have them pull themselves back together and have another effort like tonight was a credit to them.
“(A bowl game is) a big positive. … It beats the alternative. If we’re sitting here at 5-7 and not going, we’re feeling pretty lousy.”
The Buffaloes (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) will miss the postseason and finish last in the Pac-12 South division one year after playing in the conference title game.
The Utes (6-6, 3-6) had one goal after they followed a 4-0 start with four straight losses — send the seniors to a bowl. Utah accomplished that and will now play in a fourth straight bowl game.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley missed the regular-season finale due to an undisclosed injury, but it didn’t matter as Moss repeatedly waltzed through a Colorado unit that began the day ranked No. 102 in the nation in run defense. The sophomore had 78 rushing yards in the first quarter while Colorado had 79 total. The Buffaloes were outgained 340-119 in the first half and the Utes led 28-0 at halftime.
“That dude right there is something else,” quarterback Troy Williams said about Moss. “I don’t know how many people he ran over tonight. It was like playing on Madden, like Jerome Bettis in his prime. Just running dudes over.”
Moss piled up the highlight runs, but a two-yard touchdown to go up 14-0 in the first quarter drew audible gasps throughout the stadium. He took the handoff and ran over a defender in the hole, then stepped over him in the end zone like the famous Allen Iverson-Tyronn Lue video. Moss ran over a defender and through the arms of another for his first score. The offensive line played well and opened holes, but Moss repeatedly ran violently over and through defenders. He surpassed 1,000 yards and now gives Utah a 1,000-yard rusher for a fourth consecutive season.
“Just wanted to will this team to a win,” Moss said. “My coach said this whole week that it was going to go through (the running backs) room. … I always play physical but I tried to do a little bit more this week.”
Whittingham added, “If he runs that way every game the rest of his career here, he’s going to be a tremendous back.”
Williams got the start in place of Huntley for Senior Day. The sophomore didn’t practice all week and coaches told Williams he’d be the starter on Friday. He was efficient, passing for 181 yards and running for two touchdowns. Darren Carrington had a game-high six receptions for 64 yards. Utah’s 310 rushing yards were a season high.
“We were hitting him and he ran over us,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “It might have been better for us if Huntley would have played, not knocking Huntley, (because) they might not have run Moss as much.”
Colorado never found a groove offensively and the school’s second all-time leading rusher Phillip Lindsay was held to 72 rushing yards and a score. His 13 receiving yards gives him 976 for his career and leaves the senior with the most receiving yards in school history by a tailback.
Steven Montez threw for 195 yards and moved into third all-time in Colorado’s single season passing yards (2,975), surpassing Tyler Hansen’s 2,883 in 2011.
“Sometimes, if it doesn’t go your way, you got to go make your stuff happen,” Lindsay said about missing a bowl. “There will be a bunch of young kids coming back that you got to go through stuff like that. This is what happened to us in 2015, so you got to learn from it.”
Colorado: Disappointment is the name of the Buffs’ 2017 season. They failed to reach consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2004-05 and lost seven of their last nine games.
Utah: The Utes were desperate to end the regular season on a good note, and they got it. The sporadic run game had a big day without the electric Huntley under center. The defense had its best overall effort since September. Utah is still growing within its new pass-first scheme and the extra bowl practices will be valuable for those who will have bigger roles in 2018.
Utah wore specialty helmets Saturday with each being hand painted. The red and black helmets ditched the Utah logo and instead had a pair of hands wearing football gloves throwing up the ‘U’ hand gesture with the two thumbs touching and index fingers extended upward.
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