Quarterback Tyler Huntley #1 of the Utah Utes warms up prior to the game against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium on Nov. 18, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.
In a college football season filled with lows for Colorado and Utah, you couldn’t ask for a better matchup with higher stakes on Saturday. Two teams with identical records (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) playing for bowl eligibility in the last game of the regular season. No matter the outcome, it will be an emotional finish for both schools following an 8 p.m. kickoff in Salt Lake City. Here are five things you need to know about the Utes.
1. Missed expectations. You thought CU fans had reason to be upset this fall? Imagine backing the Utes, a preseason pick to finish second in the Pac-12 South Division, even getting a vote to win the league outright, and only winning five games thus far. Utah has been a consistent winner under 13th-year coach Kyle Whittingham with at least nine victories in each of the past three seasons. The Utes proved themselves capable of becoming a Pac-12 power. But not in 2017.
2. Seattle heartbreak. Utah has lost six of its last seven games, and its most recent defeat might have stung the worst. The Utes scored 13 straight points to take a 23-16 third-quarter lead at Washington. Quarterback Tyler Huntley was an efficient 19-of-27 passing for 293 yards and two touchdowns, plus a rushing touchdown. But Washington scored 10 points in the final minute, aided by an ill-advised Utah timeout with 23 seconds remaining that allowed a stunning Huskies’ comeback victory, 33-30.
3. Darren down. Among the more headline-worthy Pac-12 football story lines this offseason was receiver Darren Carrington’s transfer to Utah. Carrington led Oregon in receiving yards in 2016 before a DUI arrest led to his dismissal. A fresh start at Utah as a graduate transfer has fueled career-high numbers: 60 receptions for 854 yards and six touchdowns. But Carrington was held out of the Utes’ 33-25 loss to Washington State on Nov. 11 with an unspecified leg injury, and he hauled in just two receptions for 24 yards last week. Whittingham told reporters on Monday that Carrington is among a handful of players who are hopeful to return against CU.
4. Defensive strength. Through 11 games, Utah has relied mostly on its defense to compete. The Utes rank among the Pac-12’s top four teams in the following statistical categories: scoring defense (24.9), total defense (357 yards), rushing defense (141.3 yards), passing defense (215.7 yards) and opponent first downs (18.5). Meanwhile, the Utes’ scoring offense ranks No. 9 in the league (29.1).
5. Punter power. The most talented player at his own craft on the Utah roster could very well be the punter. What’s new? Junior Mitch Wishnowsky won the 2016 Ray Guy Award as a consensus All-American last fall, and he’s once again been named as one of 10 semifinalists for the honor this season. The Australia native leads the conference in net punting average (45 yards), and entering last week, Wishnowsky had 16 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Colorado (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) at Utah (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12)
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium (Salt Lake, Utah)
Radio: KOA-AM 850