SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – This was not the primary goal Utah had at the beginning of the season, and it took until the final game of the year to attain it, but the Utes are bowl eligible.
Zack Moss ran for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns, while Troy Williams made a surprise start at quarterback and ran for two more scores, as Utah defeated Colorado 34-13 the regular-season finale to earn win number six and officially become bowl eligible.
“It takes some of the sting out of a frustrating season,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “This team was close. They’re fighters. As frustrating as some of those losses were, to have them pull themselves back together and have another effort like tonight was a credit to them. A bowl game beats the alternative. If we’re sitting here at 5-7 and not going, we’re feeling pretty lousy.”
Moss became the 14th player in Utah history to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for a season with 1,023.
The Utes (6-6, 3-6) had one goal after they followed a 4-0 start with four straight losses — send the seniors to a bowl. Utah accomplished that and will now play in a fourth straight bowl game.
Quarterback Tyler Huntley missed the regular-season finale due to an undisclosed injury, but it didn’t matter as Moss repeatedly waltzed through a Colorado unit that began the day ranked No. 102 in the nation in run defense. The sophomore had 78 rushing yards in the first quarter while Colorado had 79 total. The Buffaloes were outgained 340-119 in the first half and the Utes led 28-0 at halftime.
“That dude right there is something else,” Williams said about Moss. “I don’t know how many people he ran over tonight. It was like playing on Madden, like Jerome Bettis in his prime. Just running dudes over.”
Moss piled up the highlight runs, but a two-yard touchdown to go up 14-0 in the first quarter drew audible gasps throughout the stadium. He took the handoff and ran over a defender in the hole, then stepped over him in the end zone. Moss ran over a defender and through the arms of another for his first score. The offensive line played well and opened holes, but Moss repeatedly ran violently over and through defenders. He surpassed 1,000 yards and now gives Utah a 1,000-yard rusher for a fourth consecutive season.
“Just wanted to will this team to a win,” Moss said. “My coach said this whole week that it was going to go through the running backs room. I always play physical but I tried to do a little bit more this week.”
“If he runs that way every game the rest of his career here, he’s going to be a tremendous back,” Whittingham added.
Williams, who had not started a game since losing at USC in September, was 15-of-24 for 181 yards, adding two rushing scores of his own. Darren Carrington led the Utes in receiving yards, grabbing six catches for 64 yards.
Darren Carrington had a game-high six receptions for 64 yards. Utah’s 310 rushing yards were a season high.
“We were hitting him and he ran over us,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “It might have been better for us if Huntley would have played, not knocking Huntley, (because) they might not have run Moss as much.”
Moss quickly overwhelmed the Colorado defense, gaining 78 yards on the ground in the first quarter. He scored his second touchdown of the game with 1:01 on the clock, pushing his way into the end zone for a two-yard rushing score, ending a four-play, 66-yard drive to give the Utes a 14-0 lead.
Williams made it look easy for Utah’s third rushing touchdown of the game when the offensive line opened a huge whole for the senior quarterback to punch in an eight-yard touchdown. Williams completed a 40-yard pass to Raelon Singleton to get Utah in scoring territory, culminating with the touchdown to end the 10-play, 88-yard drive, making it 21-0 with 10:29 left in the second quarter.
The run continued to decimate the Buffaloes in the first half with Williams scoring his second rushing touchdown and the fourth of the game with just 23 seconds left in the second quarter. The nine-yard rushing score gave Utah a 28-0 advantage heading into halftime, taking 1:20 off the clock for seven plays and 74 yards.
Colorado got on the board early in the third quarter when they scored on a six-yard rush, making it 28-7 with 9:34 on the clock. It was the end of a six-play, 73-yard drive to take 1:38 off the clock.
Utah made it a 24-point game with 4:38 remaining in the third quarter when Matt Gay sent in a 37-yard field goal, giving Utah a 31-7 lead. Fifty-three of Utah’s 56 yards on the scoring drive came from at the hands of Moss and Henry-Cole, burning 4:56 off the clock for 11 plays.
Colorado cut the Utah lead to 31-13 to start the fourth quarter, ending a 13-play, 78-yard drive for a three-yard rushing touchdown. The Buffaloes attempted the two-point conversion but was unsuccessful, kicking off to the Utes with 14:19 remaining in the final quarter.
The Utah defense set up the Utes’ final scoring drive when Bradley Anae stripped the ball from the Colorado quarterback with Barton recovering the fumble to give Utah the ball on their own 33-yard-line. Gay knocked in his second field goal of the game and 27th of the season with 5:58 left to play in the fourth quarter, ending a 37-yard drive that put Utah up 34-13.
Utah will learn it’s bowl destiny on Sunday, December 3rd.
Asked if he has a preference, Whittingham said, “Hawaii still has a bowl game, right?”