LAS VEGAS, NV — Several weeks after Utah ended Oregon’s hopes of being selected for the College Football Playoffs, the Utes played the role of spoiler and bully, and soundly defeated the Ducks 38-10, to claim its first Pac-12 Football Championship in program history before a packed Allegiant Stadium crowd. In the process, the Utes also dashed any hopes of the Ducks getting revenge or winning consecutive Pac-12 Championships. Instead, it is the Utah Utes, led by Coach Kyle Whittingham that are going to their first Rose Bowl, to take on a representative from the Big Ten Conference.
From the start, Utah was played like a team on a mission. Wanting to show that its victory over Oregon a few weeks ago was no fluke, Utah was aggressive on offense, going for it on 4th down and 1 on their opening drive. After a pass interference call, Utah RB Tavion Thomas ran it in from the 3-yard line, to open the scoring.
Oregon meanwhile still had no answers for Utah’s stifling defense. Despite having quarterback Anthony Brown and a stable of running backs, including Travis Dye, Anthony Brown and CJ Verdell, the Ducks could not get anything going on offense. Their first drive ended with a punt. On the Ducks’ second drive, Brown threw an errant pass; had his next pass tipped; and then had his third pass intercepted by linebacker Devin Lloyd, who ran it in for a 34-yard pick-six, to put Utah up 14-0, enroute to Lloyd earning MVP honors. On the Ducks’ third drive, an offensive pass interference call allowed the Utes to pin their ears back. On the next play, LB Jonah Eliss sacked Oregon quarterback Brown for a loss of 7 yards on 3rd down and 17, to force yet another punt from the Oregon 6-yard line, giving Utah great field position.
Despite their early struggles, the Ducks had two opportunities in the first half to create some positive momentum. Early in the second quarter, Oregon linebacker Noah Sewell intercepted Utah quarterback Cameron Rising just outside of the red zone. Unfortunately, Oregon could not take advantage of the turnover, as the Ducks’ drive ended with no points when kicker Camden Lewis missed a field goal from 44-yards out. Later on in the second quarter, the Ducks again created a red zone turnover when Oregon safety Verone McKinley III intercepted Rising’s pass. But Utah’s stout defense once again killed the momentum by forcing a 3-and-out. Following a punt by Oregon, Utah used its two-minute offense — aided by a pass interference call on cornerback DJ James — to go on a 74-yard, 12-play scoring drive. 2022 Projected NFL No. 1 overall draft pick linebacker Kayvon Thibodeaux’s sack for a loss of 8 yards on that drive was little more than a temporary setback for Utah, and the only real time that Thibodeaux had any sort of impact on the game. Utah’s drive culminated in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Rising to tight end Dalton Kincaid (with a missed two-point conversion), to put the Utes up 20-0, with 27 seconds remaining in the half.
Oregon somehow made matters worse. Instead of letting the clock run out, Oregon quarterback Brown threw an ill-advised pass as he was being chased out of bounds with eight seconds to go. Utah cornerback Malone Mataele secured an interception, and the Utes added another 3 points on K Jadon Redding’s 50-yard field goal, to make it 23-0 as the first half mercifully came to an end.
The Ducks finally got on board in the third quarter with a 42-yard field goal by kicker Camden Lewis, to make it 23-3. Any momentum swings in favor or Oregon, however, were quickly dashed when Utah running back TJ Pledger scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and quarterback Rising converted a 2-point play to put the Utes further ahead, 31-3. As the third quarter waned, camera angles showing a befuddled-looking Marcus Mariota (former Oregon Heisman-winning quarterback and back up on the Las Vegas Raiders) pretty much summed up the nightmarish evening for the Ducks. Neither Mariota nor those Oregon fans that made the trip down from Eugene could do anything to help the Ducks on this night.
In the fourth quarter, the Utes sealed the deal. Utah running back Thomas scored his second touchdown of the game (for a school record 20th on the season) to make it 38-3. Oregon responded with its first touchdown of the game behind a 2-yard run by running back Travis Dye, to pull to 38-10. Utah, however, recovered the ensuing onside quick; converted on 4th down and 1; and then ran out the clock to secure its first Pac-12 Football Championship.
When asked by ESPN’s Holly Rowe after the game how Utah won in such dominating fashion, MVP Honoree LB Devin Lloyd (7 tackles, 1 INT) merely said “We believed.” When accepting the championship trophy, an emotional Coach Whittingham added that “It’s incredible” and dedicated the win to Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe – the two Utah players who lost their lives to gun violence in separate incidents over the past 12 months. The win served as a fitting tribute.
Utah will play in its first Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2022.
Oregon will wait for an invitation to a bowl game, and hope to end the season on a high note.