The University of Utah defense was replacing nine defensive starters. No one in the secondary has ever started at the collegiate level, two members of the starting secondary are true freshmen, so the whole thing was bound to include plenty of early struggles.
That was the prevailing outside notion as recently as five weeks ago as this weird, winding, shortened Pac-12 football season began, but no one inside the Eccles Football Center is all that concerned with the outside perception.
“We knew internally how good they could be,” graduate transfer quarterback Jake Bentley said early Saturday afternoon. “We have some of the best coaches in the nation leading that defense and great leaders that hold guys accountable. We knew how special our defense could be.”
Bentley’s comments were not unprovoked, but rather warranted after Utah’s defense put together a tremendous second half to help the Utes run away from previously-unbeaten, 21st ranked Colorado, 38-21, at Folsom Field in Boulder.
That Utah defense yielded just seven points and 163 total yards after halftime. Furthermore, Buffaloes redshirt sophomore running back Jarek Broussard was held to just 80 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Bentley, himself, was terrific, finishing 20 for 32 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, complementing 147 rushing yards and two touchdowns from budding freshman star Ty Jordan and 210 all-purpose yards from Britain Covey.
The key defensive play of Utah’s afternoon came with the Utes nursing a six-point lead just inside 5:00 to play. On fourth-and-five from the Utah 35-yard line, Sam Noyer’s pass attempt was batted down at the line of scrimmage by senior defensive lineman Viane Moala to stall the drive after 10 plays.
On the first play of the ensuing Utah drive, Jordan took a Bentley handoff, found a gaping hole up the middle thanks to terrific blocking, avoided a would-be tackler at the second level, and went 66 yards for his second touchdown of the game, not to mention the proverbial knockout blow.
Jordan continues to be a revelation, Saturday’s effort coming after 167 rushing yards in a Dec. 5 win over Oregon State, which netted him Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Week honors.
“Everyone did a great job in the second half, we got some movement,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Concerted effort by everybody, but a great individual effort by Ty.”
Whittingham referenced a “pretty stern talk” offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig had with Bentley at halftime. The crux of the talk was that Bentley needed to play with more confidence and to play better overall. Bentley, making his third start of the season, responded positively to Ludwig’s chat, going 10 for 12 for 116 yards and a touchdown after halftime.
Bentley’s second-half touchdown pass was critical, not to mention the capper on one of his best drives of the day. On third-and-four from the Colorado 20, Covey got behind the defense for a wide-open scoring strike, ending a 10-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 5:28 of the third-quarter clock. Bentley was 4 for 6 for 51 yards on the drive, which included a 30-yard catch by junior wide receiver Bryan Thompson on second-and-15.
“When Jake is confident, he is amazing,” Covey said. “We have full confidence in Jake. We really trust Jake with this team, with this offense. He was voted a captain for a reason.”
Covey’s 210 all-purpose yards included nine catches for 76 yards and 88 kickoff return yards. Forty of those 88 came on the opening kickoff. With that optimum setup, Bentley and the offense went 60 yards in six plays over 2:58, capped by Bentley hitting junior wideout Solomon Enis underneath for a 7-yard score to open the scoring.
Colorado would have remained in contention for the Pac-12 South title with a win, but USC claimed the South division with the Buffaloes loss and will play in Friday night’s Pac-12 championship game against a to-be-determined opponent.
“We’re all disappointed,” said first-year Buffs coach Karl Dorrell, who has guided CU’s 2020 renaissance. “We had an opportunity, so we didn’t take advantage of it. We’re going to learn from this and continue to build this program. That’s what we’re going to do.”
The NCAA has waived the bowl-eligibility requirement that says a team needs to be .500 or better, but the Pac-12 is sticking with the .500 requirement. Utah (2-2) remains alive for bowl eligibility going into a Saturday game against a TBD opponent in a TBD location.
All Week 7 matchups and locations are expected to be released by the Pac-12 no later than approximately noon on Sunday.
UTAH 38, COLORADO 21
• Utah scored the final 28 points Saturday at No. 21 Colorado in defeating the Buffaloes, 38-21, in Boulder.
• The Utes defense yielded just seven points and 163 total yards in the second half.
• Jake Bentley had his best game in a Utah uniform, finished 20-for-32 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.