SANTA CLARA, CA – Washington Huskies win the Pac-12 Football Championship behind a strong defensive performance at Levi’s Stadium.
Washington won a Rose Bowl berth with tonight’s 10-3 victory over the Utah Utes.
After a season-opening loss to Auburn, the Huskies quietly rebounded during the country’s fascination with Gardner Minshew and the rival Washington State Cougars. Today, however, the Huskies reclaimed the spotlight with an impressive defensive performance. CB Byron Murphy was named the game’s MVP after recording two interceptions, the first of which he returned 66 yards for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
Despite the league’s penchant for showcasing offensive powerhouses, the Pac-12 Championship featured defense. The game began with a scoreless first quarter and ended with no offensive touchdowns.
Utah’s defense held Washington’s offensive stars, seniors RB Myles Gaskin and QB Jake Browning, largely in check. The Utes also secured the game’s first turnover when DB Javelin Guidry intercepted a Browning pass.
After the game, Washington head coach Chris Petersen said, “those guys were good the first time we played them, and they were better the second time.”
Not to be outdone, Washington’s defense held Utah to no points in the first half, making the 3-0 halftime score the lowest scoring half in Pac-12 Football Championship Game history. Washington’s defense would go on to force three second half turnovers – enroute to holding Utah to only 188 yards of total offense. It was ultimately Washington’s defense that scored the game’s only touchdown and broke up a 4th down pass to crush any hopes of a Utah comeback.
Despite the defenses taking center stage, Washington’s offense managed to rack up 308 yards. Gaskin rushed for 71 yards on 23 carries and Browning went 21 of 23 for 187 yards, with 1 interception, to lead a balanced attack. Yet, the Huskies’ offense only managed to get 3 points behind a PK Payton Henryfield goal just before halftime.
Utah finally scored in the third quarter with a Matt Gay 53-yard field goal, but that was it. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham acknowledged that his team had to “handle adversity and just keep fighting,” despite entering the game without their starting quarterback and running back.
Behind backup quarterback Jason Shelly, the Utes did not have any sustained success moving the ball. After Murphy first career pick-6, Utah’s most promising drive ended with another Shelly interception at the Washington 6-yard line.
In the end, turnovers ended the Ute’s first appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Utah, however, can take solace that it hung tough with Washington, and can hopefully use that momentum for its upcoming bowl game. Meanwhile, Washington will wait for the results of Saturday’s other league championship games to learn who it will likely face in the Rose Bowl.