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LAS VEGAS (AP) — As he walked off the field Saturday night, Colorado State interim coach Dave Baldwin paused in front his team's fans and applauded.
It was his way of saying thanks. It might have been his last chance.
"The fans came out and supported us," Baldwin said. "We love them for that."
After their 45-10 loss to No. 23 Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl, no one knows what the future holds for the Colorado State program. Certainly not Baldwin, who said he and the team's coaches have received termination paperwork as a formality.
But he didn't want the defeat to be the Rams' lasting memory of a 10-3 season.
"Of course that's not the way we wanted to end the season, but this team won 10 games and it's a special team," a red-eyed Baldwin said. "In the locker room, we told them it's still 10 wins, regardless of not finishing the way we wanted."
Jim McElwain, who coached Colorado State this season, left at the end of the regular to accept the head job at Florida. Baldwin, the offensive coordinator, took over for the bowl.
Rams players insisted McElwain's abrupt departure had no effect on their sluggish performance.
"I'd like to think this team is mature enough to know that 10 wins don't fall in your lap," linebacker Max Morgan said. "You do it a certain way, by preparation, by how you practice, and I don't think that changed at all with the transition."
The Rams were held scoreless over the final three quarters, and their running game was limited to 12 yards on 19 carries. They were 1 for 10 on third-down conversions and failed to run a play inside the red zone.
Their only touchdown came on a 39-yard flea-flicker pass from wide receiver Charles Lovett to quarterback Garrett Grayson in the first quarter.
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson ran for a season-best 91 yards, scored three touchdowns and passed for another.
The Utes (9-4) won for the 11th time in their last 12 bowls. They scored on their first three possessions and used big plays that measured 36, 49 and 60 yards.
On their first offensive snap, the Utes confused Colorado State when Wilson flipped the ball to running back Devontae Booker, who threw it back to Wilson, who then heaved it down field to Kaelin Clay for 36 yards to the Colorado State 17.
Two plays later, Wilson scored from 8 yards out.
"They hit us with an explosive play right off the bat," Baldwin said.
"Normally we start fast, but they started fast. Then we went three-and-out and they hit us again with a long run. Their explosiveness early hurt us," he said.
Colorado State played a ranked team for the first time this season — it has lost its last 16 games against teams in the Top 25.
Garrett Grayson completed 21 of 35 passes for 242 yards, but he was unable to avoid Utah's rush in the second half when the Rams were forced to throw the ball.
Utah, which led the nation with 52 sacks, dropped Grayson twice in the game, one each by Jason Fanaika and Nate Orchard.
Grayson threw an interception and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter, and Utah turned both into touchdowns.
"We got beat by a better football team," Baldwin said. "They're more physical than us. I think they were faster than us. Again, it comes down to us. We didn't execute the way we wanted. Perhaps they took that away."
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