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Game of the Year of the Day, 1930: Utah 34, Colorado 0

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Ike Armstrong’s 1930 Utah Utes: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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Ike Armstrong
Ike Armstrong
Utah athletics

The date: November 15, 1930

The matchup: Utah (6-0) at Colorado (5-0-1)

The stakes: A conference title and, in theory, a potential heavyweight postseason matchup for Utah.

The back story: Utah had become a powerhouse in the Rocky Mountain Conference by 1930, Ike Armstrong’s sixth season in Salt Lake City. Armstrong was 28-5-3 with three conference titles in his first five years, and the Utes were coming off of a 7-0 campaign.

Heading into 1930, though, there was uncertainty, both of the football and life variety. The Utes had a lot of talent to replace. From 50 Best*:

Utah was the clear BMOC of the RMAC at this time.

There was concern within the state, however, heading into 1930. The Salt Lake Tribune’s season preview announced that the “Approaching Title Race Appears Open,” noting that, while Utah was the defending champion and returned 10 lettermen, the Utes had to replace serious talent, especially at fullback, where Earl “Powerhouse” Pomeroy had dominated the year before.

Caution reached an even higher ebb when presumptive new star halfback Preston Summerhays suffered a broken bone in his leg and ended up missing a good portion of the season.

There was another reason for anxiety, however, and it had nothing to do with football. Utah was the wool capital of the United States in the 1920s, but as with so many other industries in the wake of the stock market crash and the impending depression, wool prices had tanked after hitting a peak of about a dollar per pound in May 1929. The price would fall as low as five cents per pound in the coming years.

In May 1929, stocks of American Wool were selling at 20 3/4. The price was down to 13 1/3 by the time of the market crash in October. And when Utah beat Utah State to cap a perfect 1930 season, it was at 6 1/4, less than a third of what it had been 18 months earlier.

This had an obvious effect on the local economy. Salt Lake City set up a relief committee in 1930, but funds for it had run dry by 1932. With wool prices back to pre-war levels and the labor force more than 50 percent more expensive than it had been at that time, jobs vanished. By 1933, Utah’s unemployment rate was over 35 percent. Wage levels for the jobs that remained had declined by nearly 50. (The labor movement picked up in the state for equally obvious reasons.)

And that was before the massive mid-1930s drought.

Football would serve as a distraction from increasingly hard times in America. And football was a hell of a distraction for Utah fans in 1930. The loss of Pomeroy and then Summerhays simply opened the door for a star turn. Big fullback (and eventual College Football hall of famer) Frank Christensen moved to halfback, and the Utah attack became unstoppable.

The Utes beat Wyoming, BYU, Denver, Colorado State, and Colorado College by a combined 245-13, setting the table for a battle of unbeatens. Myron Witham's Colorado Buffaloes had beaten non-conference foe Missouri and outscored five RMAC foes by an 84-27 margin (the lone blemish being a 0-0 tie at Utah State). They were seen as a major potential obstacle for the Utes.

The game: Via the Salt Lake Tribune:

BOULDER, Nov. 15 -- Unleashing a savage running attack behind the thundering drives of Captain Ray Price, Frank Christensen and Theron Davis, Utah university swept to a 34-to-0 victory over Colorado university here today and clinched the Rocky Mountain Conference title for the third consecutive year.

In face of an alert Silver and Gold defense which halted the Utes' dazzling aerial offense and held the champions scoreless in the second and third periods, the Ike Armstrong coached juggernaut marched over the goal line five times, twice in the first period and on three occasions in the final quarter. [...]

With approximately 15,000 spectators looking on, Armstrong's magnificent collection of backs went on a rampage that turned the game into a riot at the finish and left the dazed onlookers wondering whether any team that ever came across the Rockies could have equaled this one in the cyclonic speed and brute power of its runners, the annihilating force of its interference and the almost matchless perfection of its defensive play.

Utah’s offense was based on pummeling you with Christensen and then throwing over you with play-action. Colorado took the unique approach of taking away the pass first, and Utah only completed three of 11 passes. But the Utes still gained 371 yards on the ground.

The box score: Again via the SLT, which also provided a play-by-play listing.

1930 Utah-Colorado box score

(Don't you love the per-quarter view?)

CU was basically playing bend-don't-break defense early on and bent a little too much, allowing two early touchdowns. The second and third quarters were reasonably even, but with Colorado forced to take risks late, things got out of hand. First and fourth quarter yardage: Utah 281, Colorado 29.

Utah wrapped up a perfect season with a 41-0 romp over Utah State the next week, then looked for a postseason foe. Benefit games were popping up throughout the country to aid in the fight against hunger (and other causes). The Utes talked to USC and emerging power Saint Mary's, and they entertained benefits on the east coast as well. But in the end, they found no opponent and had to move on to basketball, where basically the same core of athletes went 21-6.

(One benefit game that did pop up during this time: Army vs. Navy. I wonder what happened to that rivalry...)