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SALT LAKE CITY -- In the so-called "Rumble in the Rockies," featuring the University of Utah and their newly named rival Colorado, the Utah Utes played one of their worst games of the season -- if not in recent history -- losing to Colorado 17-14 at home.
There are not a lot of words that can describe the way Utah played Friday. Awful seems to be the most appropriate, but it still falls short to the poor performance on the field. Coming into the game against the Buffaloes, Utah was a 22-point favorite and a likely contender for the Pac-12 Championship game. However, Friday's performance showed how far Utah still has to go to be a top contender in the Pac-12.
After being named a Pac-12 Player of the Week following his perfect performance against Washington State in the snow last week, Coleman Petersen missed three field goals, with the final attempt being the dagger for the Utes. And although Petersen is the player who will most likely take the blame for a Utah loss, it is hard to blame a single player, particularly when the entire Utah team struggled to make anything happen.
Other than special teams, the overall defense had to be one of the most disappointing aspects of the game. The Utah defense is known for its incredibly tough defense and hard hits, but the team failed to show that effort Friday afternoon. The secondary gave nearly every receiver a 10-yard buffer, while the rush defense allowed the Buffaloes to pick up easy yards and first downs in the rush game. The Buffaloes managed 254 yards in the first half, with Colorado quarterback Tyler Hansen passing for 198 yards.
Although Utah's offense struggled to get things moving in the first half, with the team finally picking up a first down late in the second quarter, it was the second half performance of Hays and Tauni Vakapuna that propelled the Utes back into the game. It is an interesting turn of events that Utah's offense played better than their defense in a devastating loss to the worst team in the Pac-12.
Jon Hays, who has not been known for his consistency over the season, had a decent game, completing 18-of-25 passes for a total of 185 yards. Utah's Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow seemingly relied on Hays in the final minutes of the game, asking on Hays to win the game in the air. Hays took the challenge and performed well, given the pressure in the last minutes of the game.
Additionally, until Vakapuna fumbled the ball in the final minutes of the game, he got the offense moving, making big gains and shifting the momentum to Utah. Vakapuna took a diminished role this season after a lingering early-season injury and the success of the run game with John White. However, Vakapuna is a viable threat when running the ball.
A 10-game winning season in the Mountain West Conference was considered a good year for any team, including Utah, which consistently had successful seasons in the last decade, with two undefeated seasons during that time. However, to start the 2011 season, the Utes moved to a tougher conference where the competition was a major difference to MWC teams, which was not a surprise to anyone.
Utah finished the season strong, winning their last four out of five games after losing four consecutive Pac-12 games. The Utes played to the final minutes on a near win against USC; a team that is currently ranked No. 10 by the Associated Press. Utah's losses included poor performances against Arizona State, Washington and Cal, which all came during a transitional period for the Utes offense, who lost their starting quarterback to a season- ending shoulder injury.
Utah entered the Pac-12 as the little brother, with many discounting Utah's previous successful season; however, it is likely teams in the Pac-12 will give Utah a little more respect in the coming years.
Despite a loss to the worst team in the Pac-12, the Utes managed to have a successful season, becoming bowl eligible once again. The team and fans alike knew the transition to the Pac-12 would prove to be difficult, with tougher competition and a new environment, however, Utah played through it and managed a decent season.
Utah's defense was ranked one of the best -- if not the best -- in the Pac- 12, and was known for their tough defense nationally. Additionally, junior running back John White IV finished the season as a leading rusher in the Pac-12, ranking as a top 10 rusher in the country. Utah has a lot to look forward to, but Friday's loss will be a hard one to forget. The forced rivalry between Utah and Colorado may become a reality next year as Utah will likely look to avenge a devastating loss.
Although John White was taken out of the game in the second half after suffering an ankle injury, he has made his mark on the University of Utah, including a place in history for the football program. White managed to gain 28 yards Friday, moving him into second place for the school's single-season rushing yards, passing Dameon Hunter (1,396) with a total of 1,484. White is second only to Carl Monroe's record of 1,507 yards, which was set in 1982.
White has been a leading factor for the Utes offense this year, leading the team with his strong play and ability to make the extra play. With all the hard work White has put into the season, it is unfortunate he was not able to finish the game.