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Will ‘capable’ Colorado put up a fight against No. 19 Utah?

The Buffaloes rank No. 119 nationally in total offense, No. 126 in passing offense, No. 125 in third-down conversion percentage, No. 95 in rushing offense

Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis prepares for a snap during game against Washington on Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.
Colorado quarterback Brendon Lewis prepares for a snap during game against Washington on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. The Buffs and Utes meet Friday afternoon at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
David Zalubowski, Associated Press

On the day after Thanksgiving, Utah might be feasting on Buffalo.

At least, that’s how it appears as the Utes host Colorado Friday (2 p.m. MST, Fox) at Rice-Eccles Stadium on Senior Day.

Utah, winners of seven of its last eight games, is the Pac-12 South champions. The Utes checked in at No. 19 in the College Football Playoff rankings this week, are fresh off an eye-opening 38-7 victory over then-No. 3 Oregon and are tuning up for the Pac-12 championship game in Las Vegas on Dec. 3.

The Buffaloes (4-7, 3-5), meanwhile, are limping to the finish line. They conclude their season Friday after enduring yet another season failing to become bowl eligible.

Colorado ranks No. 119 nationally in total offense, No. 126 in passing offense, No. 125 in third-down conversion percentage, No. 95 in rushing offense.

You get the idea.

Yes, earlier this month, the Buffaloes beat Oregon State — Utah’s lone Pac-12 loss this season — in double overtime. And last week, they edged Washington 20-17. In between, Colorado got pounded at UCLA, 44-20.

As usual, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is taking nothing for granted.

“They’ve got four wins this year. They’ve had some ups and downs this season, as we all have. But they’re well-coached,” he said. “They have some good players. They’re coming off a win against Washington, which gives them momentum. A lot like Arizona a couple of weeks ago coming off a win. They were juiced up for the game and ready to go. I expect that same thing from the Buffaloes.”

How does wide receiver Britain Covey view Colorado? His mind goes to its season-opening 10-7 loss against Texas A&M, which later defeated Alabama.

“That they’re capable of beating you any night. I watched that Texas A&M game live. They’re capable and they send pressures. We have to be ready for that,” he said. “I have a feeling that they’re going to stack the box to try to stop our run, which teams do and we still find a way to run on them. If we don’t, we’ll have to create matchups on the outside.”

Defensive end Mika Tafua knows how the unexpected happens in the Pac-12.

“The Pac-12 is always crazy. One week, you can blow somebody out, and then the next week, it can be a tight game like we saw with (Utah’s wins against) Stanford and Arizona,” he said. “Colorado is definitely capable of it but we just have to execute on offense, defense and special teams.”

CU plays much better at home than it does on the road. The Buffs finished 4-2 at home this season, the best showing at Folsom Field since going 6-0 in 2016, when it won the Pac-12 South.

It wasn’t a great showing, but Colorado did manage to edge Washington last Saturday.

Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis completed 14 of 25 passes for 112 yards and running back Jarek Broussard rushed 12 times for 43 yards.

CU’s best offense against the Huskies was its defense.

Colorado’s Jack Lamb returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown — the third-longest fumble return for a TD in school history. It was one of four forced turnovers by the Buffs. In the waning moments, the defense also earned a game-clinching fourth-down stop.

Colorado tight end Matt Lynch, left, congratulates linebacker Jack Lamb after Lamb recovered a fumble and ran for a touchdown against Washington, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.
David Zalubowski, Associated Press

“Well, we found another way to win at home,” said coach Karl Dorrell. “It’s interesting to look at the stat sheet, and you would say, ‘How did they win that game?’”

Indeed.

The Buffaloes were outgained 426-183 in total offense by Washington and they converted just 2 of 13 third-down opportunities. The Huskies’ offense controlled the clock, 36 minutes to 23 minutes.

Colorado has been without its star linebacker, senior Nate Landman, due to a shoulder injury. But after spending his time last Saturday on the sidelines in street clothes, Landman changed into his uniform and took the field for the kneel-down as the Buffs ended the game on Senior Day.

“He’s a terrific player. He’s been dinged up and hasn’t played much of late,” Whittingham said. “I’ve been watching him for a lot of years now and he’s really good.”

CU honored 12 seniors last week, including Landman.

“He wanted to be in this game particularly, the last home game,” Dorrell said of Landman. “We didn’t feel it was worth the risk. He’s not completely healthy yet.”

The status of Colorado freshman wide receiver Brenden Rice is also uncertain. Rice, the son of Pro Football Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, suffered an injury in the first half against Washington. He’s caught 21 passes for 299 yards this season.

In last year’s game against Utah in Boulder, Rice scored on a 61-yard touchdown pass on the first play from scrimmage in the second half.

Rice was a four-star recruit out of Chandler, Arizona, in 2020. He was recruited by a host of schools around the country, including Utah.

There’s speculation that he could enter the transfer portal after the season.

“It’s not a major injury,” Dorrell said after Saturday’s game about Rice. “We thought that maybe he could come back in and play, but it was starting to stiffen up on him, so we decided to hold him out. He’s got a chance (to play against the Utes).”

Even if CU plays with a helping of Rice, that probably won’t prevent Utah from feasting on the Buffaloes.