Can Colorado derail Utah's momentum when the two rivals square off in Salt Lake City on Friday?
The No. 19 Utes (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12) punched their ticket to the Pac-12 Championship Game with a 38-7 victory over then-No. 3 Oregon last weekend. Utah dominated the Ducks for four quarters while rolling to a fourth straight victory. The Utes held Oregon to 63 rushing yards and rolled up 386 total yards on only eight drives en route to clinching their third Pac-12 South title in four seasons. With the victory, Kyle Whittingham moved his career record to 142-69 and became Utah's all-time winningest coach.
The Buffaloes (4-7, 3-5) face a supreme challenge in figuring out how to slow down the Utes. Colorado is trending in a positive direction, having won two of its last three games. Defensively, the Buffaloes came up with big plays when they needed them in last weekend's 20-17 victory over Washington. They forced the Huskies to commit four turnovers — two interceptions and two fumbles — which counteracted Washington's 426 total yards on offense.
Colorado and Utah are tied 32-32-3 in the rivalry series. However, the Utes have had the upper hand against the Buffaloes since both teams joined the Pac-12 in 2011. Utah has won four straight against Colorado and 10 of the last 12.
Colorado at No. 19 Utah
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 26 at 4 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah -23.5
When Colorado Has the Ball
A lack of punch on offense has plagued the Buffaloes all season, and it showed once again against Washington. Colorado generated just 183 total yards and converted only 2 of 14 third downs. Moving the chains won't be any easier against Utah this week.
If the Buffaloes hope to spring an upset, they will need improved production from their backfield to make it happen. The potential is there. Jarek Broussard had back-to-back 100-yard games against Oregon State and UCLA. Broussard has rushed for 661 yards this season while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Colorado is 2-1 in games this season where he gains at least 90 yards.
Freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis has experienced growing pains as the full-time starter this season. He has a pair of 200-yard games to his credit, but he's also finished with fewer than 150 passing yards on six occasions — including against Washington, where he threw for just 112 yards while completing 56 percent of his passes. One area where Lewis has consistently done well is taking care of the football. He has gone 108 consecutive passes without throwing an interception — the longest such streak by a freshman at Colorado.
When Utah Has the Ball
Tavion Thomas returned to action after a one-game absence and offered new evidence for why he's so important to Utah's offense. Thomas ran for 94 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon. His three scores gave him 17 rushing touchdowns on the season — setting a new single-season school record. Thomas has piled up 836 rushing yards in 10 games and is on track to become the latest 1,000-yard rusher for the Utes by season's end.
Quarterback Cameron Rising did not have to do a ton against Oregon but was still quietly effective when he needed to make a play. Rising twice converted third downs with his legs on Utah's first scoring drive and threw for 178 yards against the Ducks. For the season, he has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown 14 touchdowns while tossing only two interceptions.
Rising's top target, Brant Kuithe, piled up a season-high 118 yards on five catches against Oregon. It was Kuithe's second 100-yard game of his career. Kuithe is Utah's leading receiver with 487 yards and five touchdowns on 41 catches. Stopping wide receiver Britain Covey will be of equal concern for Colorado. Covey totaled 191 all-purpose yards against Oregon — his second-highest output of the season. He has accumulated 889 yards on 74 total plays through 11 games.
Utah owns this Pac-12-designated rivalry pure and simple. Colorado has lost by an average margin of 22.8 points per game during its four-game losing streak to the Utes. The Buffaloes have struggled to manufacture offense for much of the season, and while they have a decent defense, it isn't a match for the playmakers Utah's offense brings to the field at every skill position. Defensively, Utah will make just getting first downs a chore. Points will be tough for Colorado to produce. Expect the Utes to run their streak to five in a row.
Prediction: Utah 38, Colorado 13
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.