What went right: Colorado's defense was exceptional most of the afternoon and gave the Buffs a chance to win the game.
What went wrong: The offense was shaky all day and came up empty on two trips inside the Utah 10-yard line early in the game. The lack of offense proved to be CU's undoing.
Turning point: CU trailed by just three, 10-7, going into halftime, but Utah opened the second-half with a 68-yard touchdown drive. One play later, the Utes picked off a CU pass, and converted that into a field goal and a 20-7 lead.
CU player of the game: Jordan Carrell. The junior defensive tackle recorded a season-high nine tackles, including two tackles for loss. He also forced a Utah fumble. His play up front was a key to CU's defensive effort.
Bottom line: Another disappointing season came to a close, as the Buffs ended the year on a five-game losing streak. At 4-9, the Buffs have now posted 10 consecutive losing seasons.
SALT LAKE CITY — — After six years of watching the Colorado football team struggle, Jered Bell stood on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium and hoped and prayed this one last time would be different.
"We've been in this situation so many times," Bell, CU's sixth-year senior safety, said of the Buffs trailing by six in the closing minutes. "You're just hoping just to be able to pull this one out finally, just to give us a feeling of relief in the locker room; just to get that victory."
All the hoping, praying and wishing on the CU sideline wasn't enough to prevent the same old result, the same old disappointment.
Once again, CU came up short in a 20-14 loss to host Utah in the season finale.
"It's just been the story of the season," senior receiver Nelson Spruce said. "I was feeling like maybe something special is going to happen, but we didn't get it done."
The Buffs (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12) didn't get it done against the Utes (9-3, 6-3) and they didn't get it done this season. They lost five times this year by a single score and will go home early once again after a 10th consecutive losing season.
"I don't even know if the word frustrating is a word you can use any more," CU head coach Mike MacIntyre said.
Frequently losing close games has worn on this team, and Saturday was another one that was there for the taking all day long.
On a snowy afternoon, neither team played particularly well on offense, but Utah was a little more effective.
Utah was missing All-Pac-12 running back Devontae Booker, but his backup, Joe Williams, ran for 187 yards and his first career touchdown to provide most of the offense for Utah.
The Utes had just 324 yards of total offense, fumbled seven times — losing two — and quarterback Travis Wilson threw an interception.
"(Defensive coordinator Jim) Leavitt, he does a great job of dialing up schemes to get after the quarterback," Bell said. "He brought us together in the locker room and told us in order for us to be in position to win the game, we have to play some defense. We did that. We fought hard for each other."
While CU made life difficult for Wilson, the Utah senior had an easy day compared to his Colorado counterparts.
Already without injured starter Sefo Liufau, the Buffs' Cade Apsay went 8-for-18 for 145 yards and a touchdown, but he was also picked off twice. The first interception came on third-and-goal at the Utah 8. The second came in the second quarter with CU trailing 10-7, and on the play Apsay suffered a concussion and left the game.
Third-stringer Jordan Gehrke didn't fare much better. He went 11-for-20 for 113 yards and a touchdown — the first of his career — but he also threw an interception, fumbled was sacked four times.
"Any time your starter goes out, you don't want that," Spruce said. "That was big for us to adjust to."
The Buffs even used their emergency quarterback, Jaleel Awini, for some fourth quarter running plays.
To their credit, the quarterback trio did keep CU in the game. Gehrke's touchdown pass, a 16-yarder to Phillip Lindsay, pulled the Buffs within 20-14 with 4:13 to play.
Many more opportunities were lost, though.
The Buffs drove inside the Utah 10-yard-line twice in the first quarter and came up with zero points. CU's already struggling offense went 2-for-6 in the red zone in the last two games without Liufau.
"When we had Sefo we were a little bit better in there because we had a dual threat type of guy," MacIntyre said.
For much of Saturday, the Buffs weren't much of a threat at all. They had just 307 yards of offense and committed four turnovers.
While Bell, Spruce and the rest of the Buffs hoped for a fantastic finish, it turned out to be a repeat.
"Our kids never, ever give up and if you never give up you have a chance to be successful eventually," MacIntyre.
Eventually. But, not this year.
UTAH 20, COLORADO 14Colorado 0 7 0 7 — 14 Utah 7 3 10 0 — 20
First quarter: Utah — Scott 16 pass from T.Wilson (Phillips kick), 4:45. Second quarter: Utah — FG Phillips 37, 7:27. Col — Spruce 28 pass from Apsay (Gonzalez kick), 4:36. Third quarter: Utah — J.Williams 5 run (Phillips kick), 9:37. Utah — FG Phillips 27, 6:48. Fourth quarter: Col — Lindsay 16 pass from Gehrke (Gonzalez kick), 4:13. A — 45,823.Col Utah First downs 19 18 Rushes-yards 33-49 50-216 Passing 258 108 Comp-Att-Int 19-38-3 10-26-1 Return Yards 11 43 Punts-Avg. 6-37.0 7-50.6 Fumbles-Lost 2-1 7-2 Penalties-Yards 3-31 9-92 Time of Possession 28:32 31:28
RUSHING — Colorado, Lindsay 9-48, Awini 4-20, Carr 7-11, Powell 1-1,Apsay 6-0, Team 1-(minus 1), Gehrke 5-(minus 30). Utah,J.Williams 34-187, T.Wilson 13-32, Gonzalez 1-1, Team 1-(minus 1),McClellon 1-(minus 3).
PASSING — Colorado, Gehrke 11-20-1-113, Apsay 8-18-2-145. Utah,T.Wilson 10-26-1-108.
RECEIVING — Colorado, Spruce 5-111, Lindsay 5-49, S.Irwin 3-43,Bobo 2-31, Carr 2-14, Keeney 1-6, Ross 1-4. Utah, Poole 4-23,Scott 3-31, T.Smith 2-26, Handley 1-28.