Can everything ‘fall into place’ for Utah as it clings to hope of reaching Pac-12 championship game?
To earn a trip to Las Vegas, the Utes must beat Colorado Saturday, No. 21 Oregon State must win at home against No. 9 Oregon and No. 13 Washington must win at Washington State
BOULDER, Colorado — Despite last week’s 20-17 loss at No. 9 Oregon, No. 14 Utah could go through the backdoor to the Pac-12 championship game.
But there’s only one thing that the Utes can control. They need to get through Boulder.
Utah visits the hapless 1-10 Colorado Buffaloes Saturday (2 p.m., MST, Pac-12 Network) in the regular-season finale.
Coach Kyle Whittingham knows that there’s a path for his team to get to Las Vegas on Dec. 2 to play for another Pac-12 championship.
Utah, which is a 30-point favorite, can’t afford to be Buffaloed at Folsom Field.
“It’s our last regular-season game. The old adage is you can’t let Oregon beat us twice,” Whittingham said. “You can’t have a hangover, you can’t feel sorry for yourself. You’ve gotta pick yourself back up and get ready for the next one. It’s been a year of a lot of positives and obviously some negatives. But we’ve got a chance to win our ninth ball game. That’s where our entire focus is.”
Here’s the scenario that must play out for Utah, besides beating Colorado.
The Utes needed No. 18 UCLA to beat Cal, which the Bruins accomplished Friday 35-28.
Saturday, No. 21 Oregon State must win at home against No. 9 Oregon and No. 13 Washington must win at Washington State.
If that scenario plays out, there would be a three-way tie between the Utes, the Ducks and the Huskies. Utah would win with the highest combined win percentage in conference games of conference opponents between Oregon and Washington and would reach the championship game.
“Mathematically, we still have a pathway to the championship,” Whittingham said. “But all we can worry about is our part of that equation. That’s where our focus lies. We have to finish the season the right way and just be concerned with ourselves and then see what else transpires.”
Meanwhile, running back Tavion Thomas announced Friday via social media that his collegiate career is over as he declared for the NFL draft.
The Utes will likely rely on Micah Bernard, Jaylon Glover and Ja’Quinden Jackson for their rushing attack Friday.
As Utah focuses on Colorado, what will it take for the Utes to rebound from that bitter loss to Oregon?
“First of all, you put it behind you as quick as you can as coaches. Our mentality, our attitude, the way we approach things is critical. If we walk around feeling sorry for ourselves then the players read that. Your players read you every single day, everything that we do,” Whittingham said.
“You have to have that mindset when you come back to put it behind you and move forward … We have a chance to cap the season with a pretty decent record if we can take care of the business at hand. We have a chance to, I don’t want to say backdoor, because it wouldn’t really be a backdoor but mathematically we could get back into that championship game.”
Utah wide receiver Devaughn Vele wants to see his team finish the regular season strong after last week’s disappointing setback.
“We still have a game left in the regular season and we’ve got to make sure we finish the right way,” he said. “Obviously, we want to put this behind us. It was a tough loss to take. We’ve got to move on and finish on a positive note.”
Quarterback Cam Rising, who is coming off a rough outing against Oregon, is optimistic about how this season could end for his team.
“Just not stop believing,” he said. “That belief has to be unwavering and we’ve just got to keep focusing on what we’ve got going and hopefully the pieces fall into place for us.”
Despite Colorado’s massive struggles this season, Whittingham doesn’t think his team will overlook the Buffaloes.
“We’ve got to play our best every week. We prepare the same way — focus and concentrate. Colorado has got scholarship players, just like everybody else,” he said. “They’re well-coached. This is not a team to take lightly. You don’t ever take anybody lightly. I don’t care what the circumstances (are). Hopefully, we’ve made that message ring loud and clear in our players’ minds.”
Whittingham is also expecting a strong bounce-back performance by his offense, which scored just one touchdown against Oregon.
“We’ve got a good offense, we’ve got a good quarterback. We have a good offensive line. We’ve got good players,” he said. “We have players throughout the system that have a lot of pride and take a lot of pride in what they’re doing. My guess is that we’ll play much better and much more efficient this week.”
And if everything goes perfectly for the Utes Saturday — in Boulder, Corvallis and Pullman — they could find themselves back in the Pac-12 championship game.
No. 14 Utah (8-3, 6-2) at Colorado (1-10, 1-7)
Saturday, 2 p.m. MST
TV: Pac-12 Network
Radio: ESPN 700