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Utah football: Utes become bowl eligible with 34-13 win over Colorado

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah ran through Colorado in the “Bowl Eligibility Bowl” Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium. The Utes overpowered the Buffaloes 34-13, finishing the season with a 6-6 record and becoming bowl eligible for the fourth straight year.

Utah did so with a stampede, of sorts, on the ground. The Utes scored four rushing touchdowns while building a 28-0 lead in the first half.

"We just thought we had a good match-up in the trenches," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. "We thought our offensive line matched up very well with their front seven and that we could have success running the ball. That was the plan going in, is to be run heavy."

Running back Zack Moss and quarterback Troy Williams each scored twice in the barrage.

Moss, who had 138 of Utah’s 202 rushing yards over the first two quarters, reached the end zone on runs from 15 and 2 yards out., starting in place of the injured Tyler Huntley, scored his touchdowns in the second quarter — crossing the goal line on runs of 8 and 9 yards.

The Utes racked up 21 first downs in the pivotal half. They had 340 yards of total offense at the break. The Buffaloes, meanwhile, were held to 119 yards and just six first downs.

Utah’s defense had a shutout going until 9:34 remained in the third quarter. That’s when Colorado running back Phillip Lindsay scored on a 6-yard run.

After having their lead cut to 28-7, the Utes countered with a 37-yard field goal by Matt Gay less than five minutes later.

The third quarter ended with Utah holding a 31-7 advantage. However, it didn’t stay that way for long. The Buffaloes capped a 13-play drive just 41 seconds into the fourth when quarterback Steven Montez ran 3 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the score 31-13.

Utah got more defensive later in the quarter. Bradlee Anae jarred the ball loose when he hit Montez in the backfield, and Cody Barton recovered the fumble. The Utes took over on their 33-yard line and eventually cashed in with a 48-yard field goal by Gay.

Along the way, Moss reached the 1,000-yard mark — marking the 17th time in team history that someone has reached the rushing milestone. The sophomore joins Devontae Booker (2014, 2015) and Joe Williams (2016) in extending the program’s streak of 1,000-yard rushers to four consecutive seasons.

"I don't know how many people he ran over tonight. It was like, you know, playing on Madden, Jerome Bettis in his prime, low key," Williams said. "Just running dudes over, running physical, man; he broke 1,000 today. That was real big, you know. He had a great game."

Moss finished with 196 yards on 26 carries, giving him 1,023 for the year. That places him 15th on the 1,000-yard list entering the bowl game.

"It's something that every college running back wants to do during your career," Moss said of reaching 1,000 yads rushing. "As a sophomore, it means a lot."

The Utes racked up 491 yards of total offense against the Buffaloes. Williams completed 15 of 24 passes for 181 yards.

Whittingham said Williams took care of the football and did a good job of running the offense. The senior found out he was starting on Friday when Huntley continued to have trouble throwing the ball following an injury in last week's loss at Washington.

"When his number was called I thought he responded and it's a credit to who he is as a person," Whittingham said. "He's avery mature kid and very team-oriented."

Williams, who started every game last season before losing the job to Huntley this year, made the most of his opportunity.

"It feels good. I have had a long college career and it did not go as expected," he said. "But I am glad to go out with a win on Senior Night."

Wide receiver Darren Carrington II, who led the Utes with six catches for 64 yards, was also appreciative of how things turned out.

"It was a blessing and fun. We never gave up despite all the adversity we faced this year," he noted. "We always fought back and that's why I love this team."

Colorado fell to 5-7 with the loss. The Buffaloes won the Pac-12 South last season.

"Their line blocked well and (Moss) ran over us. He was a very powerful runner tonight," said Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre. "We didn't do a good job of tackling and we work on that all the time."

Utah’s bowl destination likely won’t be known until Selection Sunday on Dec. 3. There are a lot of variables still in play.

Besides the Pac-12’s bowl arrangements, the conference is also negotiating to fill slots that aren’t filled by a lack of qualifiers from other leagues. A representative from the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, attended the game. However, the bowl also had someone at UCLA’s win over California on Friday.