SANTA CLARA, CA – No. 13 Oregon upset No. 5 Utah 37-15 in the Pac-12 Championship Friday Night, ending the Utes chances of slipping into the 2019 College Football Playoff, and securing their place in the 2020 Rose Bowl. The Ducks will bring a conference championship trophy back to Eugene for the first time since Marcus Mariota led the Ducks to a National Championship appearance in 2014.
The physical rebrand Mario Cristobal set out to create since taking over as head coach, which he’s often referred to “Oregon Football 2.0”, was in full effect tonight. When asked what the key was to running the ball so well against a strong Utah rush defense Cristobal stated “Quite frankly I think maybe these guys just all week long got a little bit tired of hearing that we weren’t the more physical team”.
CJ Verdell was named the Pac-12 Championship Game MVPafter a monstrous night on the ground, finishing the with 18 carries for 208 yards and 3 touchdowns. Justin Herbert, who hasn’t been involved in the run game much this season, ran 7 times himself for 20 yards. Cristobal stated after the game “We haven’t run him much this year, but there’s a reason he’s been upright all year… tonight, the way that they play… Justin was going to have to use his feet to make some plays. He was outstanding”.
Although he didn’t have the biggest night on the stat sheet, Justin Herbert delivered big plays when Oregon needed them. Herbert set the Ducks up for a field goal in the first quarter after he connected with wide receiver Juwan Johnson on a 50-yard pass to the Utah 1-yard line, and again after Johnny Johnson III reeled in a miraculous 33-yard reception down to the Utah 9. Offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo was able to attack Utah deep after the Utes lost safety RJ Hubert and All-Pac 12 safety Julian Blackmon to “significant” injuries. Herbert’s only touchdown of the night came on a 45-yard touchdown reception by Johnson III in the 2nd quarter.
Andy Avalos’s defense was also outstanding, holding Utah to zero red zone scoring chances, and stopping them on all four of their 4th down attempts.
Utah eventually scored for the first time in the third quarter as Tyler Huntley hit Zack Moss for a 24-yard touchdown pass, and quickly made it a one score game at 23-15 after Huntley found Samson Nacua for both a 25-yard Touchdown and a successful 2-point conversion. CJ Verdell put an end to the potential comeback after breaking off a 70-yard TD run, the longest run in Pac 12 Championship history, and added one more with a 31-yard clip after senior linebacker Troy Dye picked off Tyler Huntley.