For anyone who thought Utah blowing out Oregon two weeks ago was an outlier on the season, the Utes did that and more with an exclamation mark Friday night. With a 38-10 win over Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game, the Utes stamp their trip to the Rose Bowl as conference champs. It is the first time for Utah to make it to the Rose Bowl since joining the Pac-12 for the start of the 2011 season.
Utah’s defense played as though it had something to prove, stifling the Oregon offense from the beginning of the game and never letting up. Devin Lloyd and company held the Ducks to just 221 total yards of offense. Oregon was a horrendous four of 12 on third downs and managed no sustainable drives throughout the night. On the other side, Utah cruised with 361 yards of offense.
Utah quarterback Cam Rising took the Utes 61 yards on just nine plays on the first drive of the game. Tavion Thomas went up the middle untouched from three yards out for his first of two touchdowns on the night and the 7-0 lead. Rising, who was the back-up when the season started, finished 15-24 for 170 yards and a touchdown.
Later in the quarter, Lloyd jumped the Oregon pass route. He picked off Ducks quarterback Anthony Brown, returning it 34 yards for the pick-six and the 14-0 lead.
By the end of the first quarter, Oregon had managed only 25 total yards of offense.
In the second, on third and 14 from the Oregon 40-yard line, Rising hit tight end Dalton Kincaid on a post pattern down to the Ducks 11-yard line. Two plays later, it was Kincaid who got underneath the zone defense and was wide open in the middle of the end zone for the 11-yard touchdown pass. There was a bad snap on the PAT, but the Utes were up 20-0 and running away with it before it was even halftime.
Utah added a Jadon Redding 50-yard field goal on the last play of the half to make it 23-0 Utah. As if the score weren’t decisive enough, the total yardage stat was there to lend clarity. Utah had 205 yards of offense. The Ducks had 76.
Not Enough Ducks
Oregon got on the board on its first drive of the second half. But it was hardly momentum changing. The Ducks needed nearly five minutes to settle for a 42-yard Camden Lewis field goal. The deficit was now down to 23-3, but there was nothing that led anyone to believe Oregon was about to get back into the game.
Later in the quarter, on a zone read play, Rising found a small hole to the right, bounced off some tacklers near the line of scrimmage and then had plenty of open field for a 41-yard run yard run down to the Oregon four-yard line. TJ Pledger pushed through the line on the next play for the four-yard touchdown. The drive was all of three plays and the Utes needed only :26 seconds. Utah got the two-point conversion with a Rising scramble to the left for the 31-3 lead at the end of the third quarter.
Thomas added another score on a three-yard touchdown run to boost it to 38-3 in the fourth quarter. Oregon got its lone touchdown of the game about five minutes into the fourth quarter. Travis Dye scored from two yards out, but the outcome had long been decided.
For all of the five-star recruits on the Oregon roster, Utah dominated both sides of the field. They were even more convincing than in November in the closing weeks of the regular season. The running game produced 191 yards in addition to the passing yards by Rising.
And the defense was stifling. Lloyd took away the game MVP. He led a unit that proved to be far more physical than the big-name Oregon defense with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Noah Sewell. Lloyd solidified his place on several All-American teams with his performance Friday night.
The Utes had been through a tough season. Cornerback Aaron Lowe was shot and killed in late September. He had taken over the #22 in honor of his friend, and former teammate Ty Jordan who had been killed the year before. The Utah program retired the #22 in honor of both players in October. The tributes throughout the season were emotional. But head coach Kyle Whittingham kept his team focused. The future college football hall of fame coach, now in his 17th season got his first Pac-12 title in three tries.
The Future for Oregon and Utah
Oregon was dealing with its own distractions of a lesser level. Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal has been given a contract extension with the school. It is unknown if he has actually signed it. The head coaching job at his alma mater, the University of Miami, may be coming open soon. Current coach Manny Diaz was believed to be relatively safe in the absence of an athletic director at the school. Blake James was fired as AD at the end of November. But now the Hurricanes are expected to pluck Dan Radakovich from Clemson. With an athletic director in place, Diaz’ future would be in doubt. And it has long been believed that Miami is the only job Cristobal would leave Oregon for.
The Utes’ opponent for the January 1st classic will not be known until Sunday. If Michigan beats Iowa in the Big Ten title game, the Wolverines will go to the playoffs. The Ohio State Buckeyes likely would go to Pasadena. If Iowa beats Michigan Saturday, it will likely be the Hawkeyes.