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Utah Utes vs. Colorado Buffaloes Prediction and Preview

Utah Utes vs. Colorado Buffaloes Prediction and Preview

Utah Utes vs. Colorado Buffaloes Prediction and Preview

Plenty is at stake for both Utahand Colorado when the two rivals clash in the latest installment of the Rumble in the Rockies on Saturday.

The 19th-ranked Utes (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) kept their Pac-12 South title hopes alive after rallying for a 32-25 victory over Oregon. Utah needs a win over the Buffaloes, coupled with an Arizona State loss to either Oregon or Arizona to sew up the divisional crown. The Utes stayed in the race and beat the Ducks despite losing quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss to likely season-ending injuries in the days leading up to the game. Huntley and Moss accounted for 84 percent of Utah's total offense through the team's first nine games.

Colorado (5-5, 2-5) is in a do-or-die situation. The Buffaloes suffered their fifth consecutive loss, falling to Washington State 31-7 in Boulder over the weekend. The wheels have completely fallen off for Colorado since starting 5-0 and climbing into the AP Top 25. Injuries to top receivers have stunted the offense and, defensively, the Buffaloes' pass defense has been gashed by one quarterback after another in recent weeks.

Colorado leads the rivalry series 32-29-3. Utah holds a 5-2 advantage since the two schools joined the Pac-12 in 2011, including a 34-13 win Salt Lake City last season.

Utah at Colorado

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 1:30 pm ET

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Utah -7

Three Things to Watch

1. What can Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne do for an encore?

Filling the shoes of elite playmakers like Huntley and Moss is never an easy thing. Still, Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne made it look like a simple task. The duo did enough on offense to help Utah stay a step ahead of Oregon for the better part of four quarters.

Shelley threw for 262 yards and had zero interceptions on 18-of-31 passing in his first career start. The redshirt freshman completed three passes for 20 or more yards against the Ducks. He also ran for both of Utah's touchdowns against Oregon.

Shyne capitalized on his first start in two seasons by exploding for a career-high 174 yards on 26 carries. It is his second career 100-yard game after he posted 101 yards against Arizona in 2016 before suffering a season-ending injury.

With Shelley and Shyne pacing the offense, the Utes totaled 494 yards. It marked the most total yards for Utah since piling up 541 yards against USC.

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2. Can Colorado finish drives against Utah?

Getting sophomore receiver Laviska Shenault back in action was supposed to give Colorado's offense an extra jolt. Shenault did his part, notching 10 receptions for 102 yards. But his performance ultimately did not register the impact it could have had with nothing else going right for the Buffaloes' offense against Washington State.

Colorado simply could not move the chains when it counted. The Buffaloes had a promising start when Travon MacMillian ripped off a 64-yard run to set up their only touchdown late in the first quarter. It soon unraveled behind the team's inability to convert on third down. Colorado went an anemic 2-of-11 on third down against the Cougars.

The Buffaloes ultimately ran only 54 plays compared to 94 plays for Washington State. It proved to be a killer for Colorado's defense. The Cougars had the ball for nearly 42 minutes and Gardner Minshew finished with 335 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Converting third downs won't get any easier against Utah. The Utes rank third among Pac-12 teams in opponent third down conversion percentage (.331).

3. Who will do a better job of protecting the quarterback?

Neither Colorado nor Utah has done a particularly good job of absorbing pressure from opposing defenses. Both teams rank in the bottom third of Pac-12 teams in sacks allowed and tackles for loss allowed. The Utes and the Buffaloes have each given up 25 sacks. Overall, Utah has surrendered 63 tackles for loss, while Colorado has yielded 80 TFL.

Both teams are much better at creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and running backs. Utah is second in the Pac-12 with 73 tackles for loss. Colorado is sixth with 62 TFL. Ironically, the two rivals have each generated 25 sacks, which is tied for third among Pac-12 teams.

Chase Hansen and Cody Barton have led the way in making Utah's defensive pressure relentless. The linebacker duo has combined for 171 tackles, 26 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. Hansen's 19 tackles for loss leads the Pac-12 and ranks second among FBS players.

Nate Landman and Mustafa Johnson are the engines powering Colorado's defensive pressure. They have combined for 25 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. Johnson's 6.5 sacks rank second in the league. Landman leads the Buffaloes with 86 total tackles.

Final Analysis

Utah's track record for November struggles is well known, but the Utes seem to have the upper hand going into Boulder. Colorado is in an absolute tailspin and reports coming out this week that coach Mike MacIntyre is expected to be fired at season's end have created another distraction for the Buffaloes. Utah is in a position to claim a Pac-12 South title with a win and an Arizona State loss. The Utes will be motivated to prove they can finally get the job done.

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Prediction: Utah 31, Colorado 20

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports