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Utah Utes overpower Colorado Buffaloes 30-7, earn Pac-12 South title

BOULDER, Colo. — Utah’s 30-7 win at Colorado may have settled the Pac-12 South. The victory gave the 19th-ranked Utes (8-3) at least a share of the title with a 6-3 conference record. They left Folsom Field Saturday afternoon needing Arizona State to lose at Oregon later in the evening or the following week at Arizona to earn a trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

“We don’t like sharing. We did our part, and we feel good about that,” said kicker Matt Gay, a team captain. “We’re hoping for someone else to do theirs and give us the full range of that title.”

The Utes got their wish and Utah's win, coupled with Oregon’s narrow 31-29 victory over Arizona State late Saturday night, clinched the Utes’ first Pac-12 South Division title, thus vaulting them into the league championship game for the first time in school history.

Utah will face the North Division champion, either Washington State or Washington — who both beat the Utes earlier this season — for the Pac-12 title on Nov. 30 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Kickoff time for that game is 6 p.m. MT. The winner of the Pac-12 title game will then advance to the 105th Rose Bowl game, to be played on New Year’s Day in Pasadena, California.

In snowy, cold conditions earlier in the day, Utah wound up overpowering Colorado and sending the Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6) to their sixth straight loss. Quarterback Jason Shelley completed 11 of 23 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in his second start. Jaylen Dixon topped the receiving corps with four catches for 125 yards and a score.

“We did a great job moving the football, scoring points and taking control of the game,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

The defense was led by linebacker Francis Bernard, who made 10 tackles. The Utes held the Buffaloes to 196 yards of total offense.

Colorado did break the ice, perhaps literally, with a touchdown late in the first quarter. After Utah lost starting linebacker Chase Hansen to a targeting penalty, the Buffaloes marched downfield. They scored on a 13-yard run by Travon McMillian, capping a seven-play, 70-yard drive.

The Utes punted for the fourth time before responding. Then came the defense. Safety Marquise Blair intercepted a pass by Steven Montez on the Utah 20. A throw on first down from Shelley to Texas high school teammate Jaylen Dixon netted 61 yards and kick-started the offense.

Utah evened the score at 7-7 on a 10-yard scoring strike from Shelley to Samson Nacua and a PAT by Gay with 9:54 to go in the second quarter. The Utes finished the half with a 195-110 edge in total offense.

The margin swelled when play resumed. Utah dominated the second half. The Utes scored on their first five possessions to take control of the game.

“We just came together,” Shelley said. “We knew that the first half wasn’t us, and we had to come out with a different mindset.”

Gay opened the outburst with a 33-yard field goal. It was his 19th consecutive made kick, a school record that grew to 21 by game’s end.

Leading 10-7, Utah added a pair of touchdowns — the first on a 47-yard pass from Shelley to Dixon and the second on a 1-yard run by Armand Shyne.

In the fourth quarter, Gay made two more field goals. The senior connected from distances of 31 and 51 yards.

Utah’s defense contributed mightily. Colorado wound up punting seven times and was stopped on fourth down twice. The Buffaloes also turned the ball over three times.

Besides Blair, cornerback Jaylon Johnson also had an interception for Utah. Defensive tackle Hauati Pututau recovered a fumble. The Utes finished with 16 tackles for loss and six sacks.

Whittingham said the defense was “very good from start to finish.” He was pleased, at this point, in looking back at the season and replaying things — earning no less than a share of the Pac-12 South crown and perhaps even bigger things.

“Very proud of our guys, never satisfied but very proud and happy for them,” he said. “I’m happy for our guys and our assistant coaches.”

The Utes return to action Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium for the rivalry game against BYU.