SALT LAKE CITY -- There is no way to put a shine on the final statistics for the Colorado defense in 2011. They're ugly, really ugly.
And that made the final outing of the season Friday at Utah all the more remarkable.
The Buffs held a Utah team playing for a division title on senior day to 14 points, 274 yards of total offense and 15 first downs. It should be noted that Utah entered the game ranked last in the Pac-12 Conference in total offense, but the Utes had been playing well of late.
This was, after all, a CU defense that had allowed at least 45 points and more than 500 yards of total offense in its previous four road games.
The Buffs had a little extra motivation before Friday's game started.
During pregame warm-ups on the field, members of the Utah defense huddled together and as the CU offense jogged by the Utes broke the huddle with one word.
"We had to go out and we had to play," CU senior defensive end Josh Hartigan said. "We knew what they thought. Shoot, three points was going to win it for them. We had to go out and we had to prove ourselves. Why not us? Why not our defense?"
Hartigan said the Buffs played with more energy defensively than they had for most of the season. He recorded two sacks to give him the team lead for the second straight season. He finished his career tied with his position coach Kanavis McGhee at No. 12 on the career sacks list (15 total).
But it was more than the Buffs playing with passion.
There were more healthy bodies on the field Friday than there has been for the CU defense most of the year. The only starter missing from the beginning of the year was middle linebacker Douglas Rippy, who recently underwent knee surgery.
CU began the season with a starting secondary of Anthony Perkins, Ray Polk, Greg Henderson, Travis Sandersfeld and Parker Orms. Those five players hadn't all played in the same game since Week 2 against Cal.
Through grit, determination and a little help from the doctors, they gutted out a stellar effort against the Utes.
Perkins, who came up with a critical forced fumble late in the game, wasn't about to spend his final college game on the sideline. He acknowledged taking prescribed painkillers beforehand to allow him to play. He didn't take them all week before practices and he led the Buffs in tackles with 10. Sandersfeld also had 10 stops and Polk had seven.
"I'm 100 percent," Perkins joked when asked how healthy he was going into the game. "How healthy did I look?
"I was healthy enough to go out and play a Pac-12 football game."
Two weeks earlier he had watched the Buffs win on senior day in Boulder while leaning on crutches.
The Utes didn't get their first first down of the game until the final three minutes of the first half. The announced home crowd of 45,026 gave a stinging Bronx cheer. CU shut out the Utes in the first half. It was the first time CU had shut out an opponent in the first half on the road since November 2007 at Iowa State.
"Singing, tears, relief, a lot of happiness and excitement," coach Jon Embree said about the postgame locker room. "It's a little bit of redemption for these kids. You know a lot of them have been maligned. They've gone through a lot. For a lot of these guys, this is the last time they're ever going to play. So they can say they won."
With the game on the line and a three-point lead to protect in the waning moments, the defense wanted to be on the field. And it looked like it.
Perkins forced his fumble on the Utes' next to last possession. Senior defensive tackle Curtis Cunningham, recovered. Cunningham recorded his first stat -- an interception -- as a true freshman against Florida State in 2008. He came up with the critical recovery and a pass batted down in crunch time in his final game.
On Utah's final possession, Hartigan and linebacker Jon Major sacked the quarterback, making a potential game-tying field goal just a bit longer. Sandersfeld made an interception that was nullified by a defensive penalty.
For years, literally, the Buffs couldn't find answers defensively late in games. Friday they had an answer for everything the Utes did.
"I think we just came out ready to play," fellow defensive tackle Will Pericak said. "It was good to see the defense really come out and punch somebody in the mouth. We've kind of always said that before games, you know, come out and throw the first punch. But that's what we did today."
Pericak was on the field for the final play of the game when Utah rushed its field goal team on for a potential game-tying kick from 48 yards away. When the kick went up, he turned to see it just miss wide right by a matter of a few feet at most.
"I was happy to be with the seniors out there, with Curtis right next to me," Pericak said. "We've been here four years together. It felt good for the seniors."