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Buffaloes come up short against Utah to close out the Pac-12 era

Colorado finishes 28-83 in conference play during these thirteen years.

NCAA Football: Colorado at Utah Christopher Creveling-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffaloes’ 2023 football campaign is officially in the books. Colorado and Coach Prime made their way to Salt Lake City on Saturday to close out their season, where the Utes bested the Buffs by a score of 23-17. Colorado hung in the whole game against Utah without their star quarterback Shedeur Sanders, but just ultimately couldn’t get the job done.

Saturday’s game was a battle of two injured football teams. Colorado was forced to play without Shedeur Sanders due to injury and Xavier Weaver, who was unable to play due to having the flu. Meanwhile, Utah is the most injured team in the entire country and was forced to roll out their fifth string quarterback Luke Bottari just to have someone under center.

Starting their fifth-string walk-on QB, the Utes ran the ball down Colorado’s throat all game long with great success. Despite it being blatantly obvious that the Utes were going to run nearly every single play, the Buffs’ defense just couldn’t contain the rush. Utah finished the game with 286 yards on the ground and only 10 pass attempts. Kyle Whittingham used Utah’s dominant run game to control the game clock, as the Utes had possession of the football for 39 minutes. After the game, Deion Sanders said he knew what was coming from Utah’s offense but the Buffs just couldn’t stop it.

“Anybody with a darn football mind knows they’re going to try to run the darn ball. What else are they gonna try to do?” said Prime postgame. “They’re a physical, tough, hard-nosed team that runs right at you and that’s what they did.”

Colorado’s defense had a rough showing today. Not only could they not stop Utah’s rushing attack, but they also couldn’t stop the Utes on fourth down. Utah went for it from 4th and medium twice on Saturday in absolutely crucial moments of the game, both of which resulted in first downs. Charles Kelly and his squad couldn’t scheme up a way to stop one of the most predictable and one-dimensional offenses in the entire country, which isn’t necessarily a great look.

To the defense’s credit, they were very good in the red zone. The Buffs managed to scrounge up three big red zone stops against the Utes, which resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns. Without those three red zone stops, this game could have gotten out of control.

As for Colorado’s offense, they had their ups and downs. Backup quarterback Ryan Staub got the start this week and played very well in Salt Lake city. Staub opened the game up with a fumble on Colorado’s first drive of the game, but refocused and led Colorado on some impressive drives. Staub finished the game with 195 pass yards and 17 completions off 24 attempts, along with a passing touchdown. Staub’s performance could have led the Buffs to a win in Salt Lake City if things that shaken out differently.

Coach Prime praised Staub’s performance postgame.

“I’m proud of Staub. I really am proud of this young man,” said Deion. “You have no idea the leaps and bounds that he’s made, because I’ve been there every day of practice. It was phenomenal.”

Colorado’s run game unsurprisingly left things to be desired, as they once again failed to eclipse 100 rushing yards as a team. While the run game faltered, Colorado’s offensive line looked quite a bit better today. The unit that’s allowed the most sacks in the country only allowed two on Saturday, which was a welcome sight. This week was the current rendition of the offensive line’s last hurrah before it gets completely overhauled through the transfer portal over the offseason, so it’s good to see them go out with a bang.

“We’re happy with the way [the offensive line] played today,” said Deion.

Now it’s time to address the elephant in the room: the officiating. The Buffs had at least two, probably even three, touchdowns taken away on very questionable calls in Salt Lake City on Saturday. The first of which came when Travis Hunter was called for stepping out of bounds on a long touchdown run, which replays showed he didn’t. The second bad call came on yet another Travis Hunter touchdown pass right before halftime that appeared to be a clear catch, but was overturned after official review. Just for good measure, the refs called back a Dylan Edwards punt return touchdown on a weak illegal blocking call.

I’m not usually one to blame the referees, but this week was especially egregious. The Pac-12’s referees erased what probably should have been 21 Colorado points off the board, which is just beyond frustrating. It makes it extremely hard to get sentimental about the end of the Pac-12 when you get hosed by their referees in your final game, but them’s the breaks I guess. Let’s hope the Big XII referees are a bit more competent than the Pac-12.

And with that, the 2023 football season is over. The Buffs finish with a 4-8 record — but quite what we imagined when they started the season 4-1, but it’s miles better than going 1-11 last season. The Buffs will be better next year. They will learn from these late collapses and ugly losses and improve moving forward.

“We ain’t where we wanna be, but we ain’t where we used to be,” Coach Prime perfectly put it in his press conference last week.

The Coach Prime era of Colorado football continues in 2024, this time in the Big XII conference. Big changes are coming to the Buffs over the next few months, so let’s all collectively gear up for the offseason rumor-mill and enjoy some excellent Colorado basketball in the meantime.