BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — It was the No. 21 Utah Utes who weathered this storm, and they have a trip to their first Pac-12 title game to show for it.
Jason Shelley threw for 221 yards and two touchdowns and the Utes mastered the sloppy conditions in a 30-7 rout of Colorado in freezing rain and snow Saturday.
“It doesn’t bother us a bit,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We are up in the mountains in Salt Lake City, so not a problem at all. Our guys handled it very well. It didn’t faze them.”
So comfortable were the Utes (8-3, 6-3) that several of them warmed up shirtless.
“We’re from Utah, so it’s not like we don’t play in the cold weather, too. It was nothing to us,” said linebacker Francis Bernard, who had to step in for star Chase Hansen, who was ejected for targeting.
Buffs senior wide receiver Jay MacIntyre, on the other hand, wasn’t accustomed to the foul weather.
“No, not really. This was the first real time” playing a game in snow, he said. “Me and my brother and my friends would go at night to my high school and go play in the snow sometimes. That was fun. But other than that, not really. Not like a real game.”
The Utes flew home assured of at least a share of the Pac-12 title.
“It’s amazing,” Utes kicker Matt Gay said. “I don’t think Utah has ever had a Pac-12 title, and we don’t like sharing. We did our part and we feel good about that, we’re hoping for someone else to do theirs and give us the full reigns of that title.”
The Oregon Ducks did just that with a 31-29 win over Arizona State later Saturday night, sending the Utes to their first conference championship appearance since joining the Pac-12 in 2011.
They’ll face either eighth-ranked Washington State or No. 17 Washington.
A sixth consecutive loss for the Buffaloes (5-6, 2-6) capped a week in which athletic director Rick George said he hadn’t made any decisions regarding coach Mike MacIntyre’s employment amid a news report that his job was in jeopardy.
“No, I don’t feel like it was my last game,” MacIntyre said. “We’ve got one more. Hopefully we can win that and go to a bowl game.”
MacIntyre brought a photo of a bison heading into a storm into his weekly news conference, a metaphor that was both apt and prescient — freezing drizzle ahead of a snowstorm turned the first half of the 500th game played at Folsom Field into a sloppy mess that resulted in a 7-7 first-half yawner.
MacIntyre said he realizes the nature of college coaching: win and you’re asked when you’re leaving; lose and you’re peppered with questions about an exit.
While the Buffs continued to stagger through their worst injury epidemic in 33 years, the Utes won for the second straight week after losing QB Tyler Huntley and star running back Zack Moss to season-ending injuries.
Colorado, which started out 5-0, fell to 0-9 over the last two years when playing for bowl eligibility.
Despite losing Hansen on a targeting call in the first quarter, the Utes stymied Colorado’s offense even as quarterback Steven Montez had his full complement of receivers available for the first time in two months.
The Buffs managed just 19 yards in the third quarter, when the Utes took control with a 17-0 run.
“It was just better execution,” Whittingham said. “We did have some guys change cleats in the second half. … But, no, nothing major, nothing drastic as far as wholesale change.”
Matt Gay gave Utah its first lead with a 33-yard field goal, Shelley threw a 47-yard TD to fellow freshman Jaylen Dixon and Armand Shyne ran it in from a yard out to make it 24-7.
“We just couldn’t make a tackle,” Buffaloes linebacker Rick Gamboa said.
Mike MacIntyre said, “I thought we played really hard in the first half. Second half, we’re just inept on offense right now. That’s the best way to put it.”
Shyne’s 55 yards on 17 carries led a Utah ground game that outpaced Colorado’s 169 yards to 34.
Travon McMillian gave the Buffaloes a 7-0 lead with a 13-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Strong safety Marquise Blair’s interception on Colorado’s next drive turned momentum and four plays later, Shelley hit Samson Nacua from 10 yards out to tie it at 7.
Held to 84 yards on 13-of-22 passing, Montez left the game in the second half with a sprained right ankle.
Utah: After a slow start, the Utes flexed their muscles in the snow and rallied around the loss of Hansen to win for the second straight week behind backups at QB and RB.
Colorado: Fast starts have not been the problem for Colorado; it’s crumbling after the break. They’ve managed just one field goal in the fourth quarters of their last five games.
The Utes are a dangerous, deep team that will stay in the AP Top 25 as they continue rolling toward their 13th bowl under Whittingham, whose 11-1 bowl record is the best in NCAA history.
Utah: Hosts BYU on Saturday.
Colorado: Visits Cal on Saturday.
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AP freelancer Monica Costello contributed.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton