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November 26, 2011

Ending how it started

Different quarterbacks led Utah on pivotal drives to start the season, as well as end it. Jordan Wynn marched the offense down the field and into field goal range with time running out while visiting USC's storied Coliseum. In heartbreaking, dramatic fashion, a Coleman Petersen field goal was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Utah went fell to 1-1 on the season and in retrospect, one can't help but wonder what might have been, or what the season would hold had the Utes converted the field goal to go up 2-0 and 2-0 in conference.

Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Jon Hays engineered another Utah last-minute drive to put his team into field goal range. Instead of a shot at the Pac-12 South Championship and higher-profile bowl game, kicker Coleman Petersen's kick as time ran out, went wide right, thereby ending the game which resulted in a 17-14 disheartening loss.

Painful as it may be, Utah literally ended the season the way it began; with two losses and a world of regret weighed heavily by missed opportunities, and second guessing key decisions.

Colorado pulled ahead in the drama-filled game early, going into half time with a 10-0 lead. Though Utah faced a manageable deficit, the game was actually much more lopsided than the score appeared, with Colorado missing opportunities of its own through the first half.

"We weren't very good in the first half at all, in any phase," said head coach Kyle Whittingham

Colorado ended the first half with 254 yards in sharp contrast to Utah's paltry 17. Normally productive, John White was limited to just 19 yards in the half, telling the real tale of the game as Utah has pinned it's hopes, expectations and success on White and his success.

"Our inability to run the ball was another factor in the game," observed Whittingham. "That's not us, if we're going to win a game, we've got to have a physical running attack. We've got to do a lot better than we did tonight in the run game."

While Utah played subpar in all three facets of the game, Colorado, who improved to 3-10, 2-7 uncharacteristically played like the team with a shot at the division championship rather than the team with a 23 game road losing streak.

"Credit Colorado, they had a nice game plan. They were effective offensively against our defense," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. [Colorado] was one of the more effective teams this year, as far as moving the ball."

Against a notoriously aggressive Utah defense, Colorado's offensive game plan centered on screen plays, and draws and in general, created mismatches or got their play-makers in space and one on one against the Utah secondary.

"[Colorado] came out and made plays. They exploited the one person that wasn't doing their job on the play," said senior linebacker Chaz Walker, who led all tacklers with 13 on the night.

While Colorado's statistics weren't gaudy or glamorous, they were enough to get the job done. Utah gave up 373 yards of total offense, of which 264 were through the air. More than the points Colorado put up, or the yards gained was the time of possession that was so thoroughly dominated by the Buffs in the first half.

Utah held the ball for roughly nine minutes in the first half, while Colorado possessed the ball for just over 20 minutes. For the game, the three Buffalo scoring drives combined for 38 plays and around 19 minutes. In short, Utah's defense could not get off the field when it needed to, mostly attributed to myriad missed tackles.

While the Utah defense couldn't get off the field, the offense did little to help the cause, after not producing a single first down until just over two minutes left in the first half.

Things looked better in the second half all the way around, and the Utah defense gave up just one touchdown in the half and 125 total yards.

After playing a game of field position, the one consistent bright spot on special teams was the punting of Sean Sellwood, who averaged 52.8 yards per punt, with all four punts falling inside the 20.

Offensively, things picked up late in the game, but proved to be too little, too late though quarterback Jon Hays made a few plays when his team needed it the most. In the first half, Hays was 5-7 with 22 yards passing, but finished with 185 yards on 18-25 passing.

Hays would connect with nine different Ute receivers. Receivers Dres Andersen and Devonte Christopher each had four catches, and Christopher had a team-high 56 yards receiving.

With the loss Utah drops to 7-5 and 4-5 in conference play

Things picked up in the second half, however, as Utah came out and scored 14 third quarter points. In the end, place kicker Coleman Petersen would finish the night 0-3 in field goals, including the one as time ran out in regulation that would have forced a tie.

Utah would score all 14 of its points in the third quarter, but fell just short throughout the last half of the game.

Facing a 10-0 deficit already and the defense struggling, several Utah players left the game, including offensive lineman Sam Brenner went down with a neck injury. Brenner lay still on the ground for several minutes as medical attendants evaluated his situation before being driven off the field in an ambulance.

Brenner is expected to make a fully recovery, as far as the program is aware at this time.

On the next play, running back John White moved into second on the Utah all-time rushing yards list, but also went down after achieving the impressive feat. As White never returned to the game, senior running back Tauni Vakapuna stepped in for him admirably, or at least enough to help sustain drives and/or opening things up for the pass game.

Vakapuna would rush for 77 yards after coming into the game roughly half way through the third quarter. With some momentum, Vakapuna would ultimately fumble the ball, once again failing to maximinze on an opportunity, as the turnover happened in the midst of a more effective than usual offenseive drive.

Jon Hays went 18-25 and 185 yards and a touchdown on the night and led the Utes to within field goal position twice toward the end of regulation.

Another senior, Shawn Asiata caught a touchdown pass, marking the first ever in his career as a Ute.

Following the deflating loss, the Utes will await their bowl invitation, but will carry on somewhat normally on a game week, with a Monday meeting.

After the difficult loss on Senior Day with so much else at stake, Utah players looked as if the wind were knocked out of them after the loss, but vowed to get a bowl game victory sometime in December.

"It's disappointing, but at the same time we need to bounce back and get ready for the bowl opponent," said senior linebacker Chaz Walker.

More than the loss itself, many Utes are most upset about losing on Senior Day, and not sending the Senior class out on a high note.

"We let down the seniors today," said quarterback Jon Hays. "I guess you could say the first half was on me. I made some mistakes and missed some throws. It was disappointing."







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