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Utah football report card: No. 19 Utes’ defense wins the day in victory over Colorado

Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III, wearing red, breaks up a pass intended for Colorado wide receiver Daniel Arias, wearing white.
Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III (8) breaks up a pass intended for Colorado wide receiver Daniel Arias (6) in a NCAA football game at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021.
Shafkat Anowar, Deseret News

Utah beat Colorado 28-13 in its regular-season finale on Friday, improving its record to 9-3 overall and 8-1 in Pac-12 play.

Up next for the Utes is the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3.

Here are the grades from the Utes’ win:

Offense

Maybe it was a Thanksgiving hangover or the knowledge that they already had the Pac-12 South division locked up, but the Utes came out flat on offense.

Cam Rising threw an interception, his first since Oct. 16, on Utah’s first drive of the game, and the Utes scored no points in the first quarter for the first time since Sep. 25 against Washington State (Jadon Redding also missed a field goal try).

After the first quarter, though, Utah’s offense scored touchdowns on four of its next five drives.

The Utes got on the scoreboard with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Rising to tight end Brant Kuithe.

Rising’s dart to Kuithe capped off a seven-play, 2:51 drive.

On the next drive, Utah went 38 yards in five plays, taking 2:39 off the clock. This time, Rising found Dalton Kincaid for a 28-yard touchdown pass.

Utah’s tight ends have been the key targets for Rising this season.

Utah’s most impressive drive of the game came following Colorado’s kick return for a touchdown to start the second half, which cut Utah’s lead to one point.

Rising had two nice completions, and Tavion Thomas capped off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run.

The Utes defense forced Colorado to punt, then Utah scored another touchdown, going up 28-13.

Britain Covey had a 33-yard completion where he got smacked by Christian Gonzalez but hung on to the ball.

Later in the drive, Rising started to run for the first down on third and 5 from Colorado’s 13-yard line, but as he drew the defense to him, he threw it to Covey for a touchdown.

Utah had a good stretch there but had too many empty possessions, failing to score in the first and fourth quarters.

The 28 points scored was the fewest scored by the Utes since Sep. 25 against Washington State.

For the game, Rising was 14-for-23 for 179 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception.

Thomas rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown, and TJ Pledger rushed for 103 yards.

Covey led the team with 72 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Grade: B-

Defense

Coming off an excellent showing against Oregon in which it held the Ducks to seven points and just 63 total rushing yards, Utah’s defense had an another great showing against Colorado.

The Utes held the Buffaloes to only 148 total yards of offense — 84 passing yards and 64 rushing yards.

The defense only surrendered six points — Colorado’s only touchdown of the day came on a kickoff return touchdown.

Three of those points can’t really be pinned on the defense, as the unit was given tough field position after Rising’s interception on the first series of the game gave Colorado the ball on the Utah 15-yard line.

But the ensuing Colorado series set the defensive tone for the rest of the night.

The Utes stuffed Colorado running back Alex Fontenot, then forced two incompletions, holding the Buffaloes to a field goal.

The only other points scored by the Colorado offense were on a short field, as the Utes went for it on fourth down and didn’t make it near the end of the first half and Colorado went 39 yards in nine plays.

Buffaloes quarterback Brendon Lewis converted two third downs with his legs on that drive in pretty much the only negative moment for the defense, but Utah still stopped Colorado and forced a 56-yard field goal attempt to end the half, which Cole Becker nailed.

The Buffaloes were missing some key players on offense — leading running back Jarek Broussard and leading receiver Brenden Rice.

Lewis was 9-for-23 for just 84 yards and was sacked four times. Fontenot was Colorado’s leading rusher with just 28 yards.

Utah’s linebacker duo of Nephi Sewell and Devin Lloyd led the way yet again. Sewell had 10 tackles with one tackle for loss, while Lloyd had nine tackles with a sack.

Clark Phillips III and Zemaiah Vaughn had nice pass breakups, and Hayden Furey had two pass breakups.

Lloyd, Mika Tafua, Van Fillinger and Aliki Vimahi each had a sack.

It was another great performance from the defense.

Grade: A

Special teams

After a great showing against Oregon in which the unit had a huge blocked field goal, a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown courtesy of Covey and a made field goal by Jadon Redding, the Utah special teams unit regressed heavily against Colorado.

Redding’s only field goal attempt of the game, a 37-yarder, was blocked by Terrance Lang.

To start the second half, Utah gave up a 100-yard kick return touchdown — the Utes’ third allowed kick return touchdown of the season — as Nikko Reed took the kick to the house to cut the Utes’ lead to one point.

Utah missed multiple tackles on the return.

Covey had 31 yards on four punt returns, including a 16-yard return, plus a 29-yard kickoff return.

Michael Willams had his longest punt of the season, 50 yards, on his only punt of the game.

Grade: D-