Underdog Utes can play spoiler against upstart Buffaloes
No. 21-ranked Colorado needs a win over Utah in its Pac-12 After Dawn matchup Saturday and needs UCLA to upset No. 16 USC Saturday night in order to advance to the Pac-12 championship game
Unlike the past two seasons, Utah is not playing for a Pac-12 South championship.
This time, it’s No. 21 Colorado’s turn — that is if everything plays out in the Buffaloes’ favor Saturday.
The undefeated Buffs need a win over the Utes in their Pac-12 After Dawn matchup Saturday (10 a.m. MST, Fox) and need UCLA to upset No. 16 USC Saturday night in order to clinch a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.
So Utah, the two-time defending Pac-12 South champs, can play spoiler at Folsom Field while keeping its own bowl hopes alive.
The Buffaloes are slight favorites and that’s just the way Ute defensive end Mika Tafua likes it.
“Since I’ve been here at Utah, we love being the underdogs,” he said. “It’s kind of weird the past couple of years that we haven’t been the underdogs. I kind of like it.”
A year ago, the No. 6 Utes crushed Colorado 45-15 at Rice-Eccles Stadium to win the Pac-12 South title and advance to the conference championship game.
Utah (1-2) earned its first win of the 2020 season last Saturday with a 30-24 triumph at home against Oregon State, while Colorado (4-0) beat Arizona 24-13 in Tucson.
“They’re a very solid team. They’re undefeated,” said Utah tight end Brant Kuithe. “I think it’s going to be a good game and a tough matchup.”
The way coach Kyle Whittingham sees it, this is the next game on the schedule — and the only game on the schedule. The Pac-12 is expected to release next week’s matchups this weekend.
“We’re just taking them one at a time, just like we do every year. We never get ahead of ourselves and look past any opponent. Colorado’s a good football team. They’re 4-0 for a reason. It’s not happenstance. They play good football.” — Kyle Whittingham
“We’re just taking them one at a time, just like we do every year. We never get ahead of ourselves and look past any opponent. Colorado’s a good football team,” he said. “They’re 4-0 for a reason. It’s not happenstance. They play good football. They’ve got a lot of good things going for them.
“That’s our entire focus. We don’t even know who we play after that, literally. We can’t look past Colorado because we don’t know who the next opponent is going to be. All our attention, efforts and energy is on the Buffaloes.”
Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said Utah is a formidable challenge, adding that it’s starting to look more like the Utes teams from the past two seasons.
“They weren’t playing early (due to COVID-19 issues). They had a rough start in their first one against USC and USC had a couple of games under their belt. But I would say right now, they’re not the same team that you saw in week one or week two,” he said. “What you’re seeing is characteristic of the Utah style and the type of team you saw last week against Oregon State.
“They weren’t playing early (due to COVID-19 issues). They had a rough start in their first one against USC and USC had a couple of games under their belt. But I would say right now, they’re not the same team that you saw in week one or week two.” — Colorado coach Karl Dorrell on the Utes
“They’re well-coached and coach Whittingham has done a great job in that program for a number of years. I know that team is probably going to be one of the best teams, if not the best team, we’ll face so far this season. We’ve got to be ready to play.”
While Utah showed signs of improvement last week with a season-high 30 points and zero turnovers, Whittingham knows the offense still has work to do.
Going into the season, Whittingham expressed more concern about the defense than the offense.
“It hasn’t played out exactly as I thought it would. The defense seems to be much more productive and further ahead as any of us thought,” he said this week. “We’re not quite as productive on offense as we need to be right now. We have a ways to go. I didn’t see that coming.”
The Utes did a much better job last week of utilizing its stable of playmakers.
Freshman running back Ty Jordan gained 167 yards on 27 carries, while wide receiver Britain Covey caught a touchdown pass and recorded a 64-yard punt return for a touchdown. Kuithe caught a career-high eight passes for 76 yards against Oregon State. He ranks No. 5 in the Pac-12 in receptions per game and nationally, he ranks fourth among tight ends in receptions per game.
“I just feel like our offense is really dynamic when you’ve got guys like me, Ty and Kuithe on the field at the same time,” Covey said. “And I hope we see a lot more of that going forward.”
If Utah’s offense gets rolling against Colorado, the Utes could ruin the Buffs’ Pac-12 South title hopes.
Utes on the air
Utah (1-2) at Colorado (4-0)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700