LAS VEGAS (AP) Right from the start, quarterback Travis Wilson and No. 23 Utah had Colorado State on the run in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Wilson rushed for a season-best 91 yards, scored three touchdowns and passed for another in a 45-10 rout Saturday.
”I’m not going to say it’s his absolute strong suit, but he’s a capable runner,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. ”He’s deceptive.”
So were the Utes, who have won 11 of their last 12 bowl games.
Utah (9-4) scored on its first three possessions and used big plays that measured 36, 49 and 60 yards. They also employed what Whittingham called some ”trickeration.”
On their first offensive snap, the Utes confused Colorado State when Wilson flipped the ball to running back Devontae Booker, who threw it back to Wilson, who then heaved it down field to Kaelin Clay for 36 yards to the Colorado State 17.
Two plays later, Wilson scored from 8 yards out.
”They hit us with an explosive play right off the bat,” Colorado State interim coach Doug Baldwin said.
”Normally we start fast, but they started fast. Then we went three-and-out and they hit us again with a long run. Their explosiveness early hurt us,” he said.
Wilson rushed for a season-high 91 yards on 11 carries and completed 17 of 26 passes for 158 yards.
”I saw that the running was working for me and I definitely took advantage of it,” he said. ”A lot of the runs I was able to read. The O-line did a great job of blocking, and having Booker running well too definitely set me up for some good runs.”
Utah finished with 548 total yards, including 359 on the ground. Booker ran for 162 yards and a TD and Troy McCormick ran for 86.
Colorado State (10-3) played a ranked team for the first time this season – it has lost its last 16 games against teams in the Top 25.
Baldwin, who started the season as the offensive coordinator, ran the team after coach Jim McElwain was hired by Florida.
Garrett Grayson completed 21 of 35 passes for 242 yards, but he was unable to avoid Utah’s rush in the second half when the Rams were forced to throw the ball.
Utah, which led the nation with 52 sacks, dropped Grayson twice in the game, one each by Jason Fanaika and Nate Orchard.
Grayson threw an interception and lost a fumble in the fourth quarter, and Utah turned both into touchdowns.
Wilson ran for a 12-yard touchdown and backup running back Bubba Poole scored on a 10-yard run.
”We got beat by a better football team,” Baldwin said. ”They’re more physical than us. I think they were faster than us. Again, it comes down to us. We didn’t execute the way we wanted. Perhaps they took that away.”
Baldwin hoped to confuse Utah’s defense by using multiple formations, but it didn’t work. The Rams ran the ball early with little success and later couldn’t mount a passing attack.
Colorado State ran 19 times for a total of 12 yards. Without a running game, Grayson’s job was made even more difficult.
”It allows their defensive line to pin their ears back, and it’s obviously something you don’t want to do,” Grayson said. ”I think they just came out and punched us in the mouth, and I don’t think we necessarily punched them back like we’ve done so many times.”
Rams wide receiver Rashard Higgins caught seven passes for 109 yards.
Utah didn’t do much wrong in the opening half, taking a 24-10 lead, rolling up 327 yards and scoring on its first three possessions. The only time the Utes stumbled came on the final play of the second quarter, when a 38-yard field goal attempt by Andy Phillips hit the post.
But by then, the Utes were in high gear. They combined with Colorado State to score 31 points in the first period, a Las Vegas Bowl record, and used big plays to set up each of their touchdowns.
A 36-yard pass from Wilson to wide receiver Clay Kaelin on their initial drive put the Utes in position for a touchdown. Two plays later, Wilson scored on an 8-yard run.
On the next possession, McCormick broke two tackles for a 49-yard sideline run to set up a second Utah score, a 16-yard TD pass from Wilson to Delshawn McClellon.
Booker later ran off-tackle for a 60-yard score and a 21-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Colorado State used a trick play to get its only first-half touchdown, a pitch from Grayson to wide receiver Charles Lovett, who threw back downfield to Grayson for 39 yards.