A raucous sea of red flooded Allegiant Stadium in sunny Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, December 3rd, as the University of Utah clinched their first-ever PAC-12 Conference championship in front of 56,511 attendees.
Choosing to defer to the second half after winning the coin toss, the Ducks allowed Utah to move the ball with ease on the opening drive. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Rising was nearly perfect, going 3-4 for 40 yards, including a beautiful 22-yard pass to junior receiver, Britain Covey to put the Utes into Ducks territory. The drive was capped off by a two-yard rushing touchdown by junior running back Tavion Thomas after a pass interference call against Oregon’s Mykael Wright helped the Utes escape a 3rd and long in the red zone.
Oregon’s first possession ended after just five plays as Utah’s defense swarmed the Ducks, keying in on stopping leading rusher, junior Travis Dye. The Ducks ultimately gained just 18 yards before punting back to the Utes, who ended their second possession with a three and out.
The Utah defense continued to set the tone by applying pressure to senior QB Anthony Brown, which eventually resulted in a 34-yard pick-six from junior linebacker Devin Lloyd to put the Utes up 0-14 late in the first quarter on a 3rd and 5 that had Brown facing immense pressure from an aggressive Utah defensive line.
Rising opened up the second quarter with an interception right to freshman linebacker, Noah Sewell that was returned 22 yards. Brown found freshman running back Seven McGee for a 19-yard completion that put the Ducks into Utah territory for just the second time, but the boisterous Ute-heavy crowd brought the noise, helping to force a false start to back the Ducks up to the Utah 26, turning a 3rd and 2 into a 3rd and 7 that Brown failed to convert. The drive ended in a missed 44-yard field goal, keeping Oregon scoreless.
Just as the Utah offense started to regroup following the Rising pick, a forced fumble that took a favorable Utah bounce out of bounds opened the flood gates as the Ducks defense started hitting back. On 1st and 10 from the Oregon 30, a tipped pass from Rising floated into the arms of Oregon’s Verone McKinley III, resulting in another interception. Thankfully, the Utah defense would step up to force a quick three and out to keep the Ducks blanked despite a chaotic drive littered with errors.
With 1:01 left in the opening half, sophomore cornerback DJ James committed Oregon’s second pass interference penalty, giving the Utes an opportunity to orchestrate one final drive, ultimately ending in an 11-yard pass to junior tight end Dalton Kincaid that was followed by a failed two-point conversion, giving the Utes a 0-20 lead with 0:27 left in the half. That would prove to be too much time, as Utah’s defense swarmed Brown, forcing his second INT of the half when sophomore cornerback Malone Mataele picked off the struggling QB, setting up what would become a career-long 50-yard field goal for sophomore Jadon Redding to give Utah a 0-23 lead at the half.
Dye came out of the half looking to take control of the offense, accounting for 39 of the 51 yards the Ducks gained on nine plays, however, freshman corner Cole Bishop sparked the defense to keep Oregon out of the red zone, forcing a 42-yard field goal to give Eugene’s finest their first points of the game.
Oregon’s woes continued when an errant snap blew past Brown on their next possession, nearly resulting in a safety as he recovered the ball a foot shy of the endzone. The Oregon offense, again led by Dye would fail to break out past the five-yard line and were forced to punt deep in their own territory, giving Utah the ball on the Oregon 45. Rising would take the Utes down to the opponent’s four-yard line on a 41-yard keeper that set up a rushing TD from junior TJ Pledger. Up 3-29, Rising would again take control with a keeper, converting the two-point attempt by scrambling to the left to find the end zone and a 3-31 lead.
Utah’s offense would methodically bleed the clock in the fourth quarter, taking 6:32 off as they marched down the field on an 11 play, 62 yard drive that ended with Thomas finding the end zone for the second time on a three-yard run, adding to Utah’s commanding lead.
Oregon would eventually find the end zone for the first time on a 12 play, 90-yard drive as the Ute defense shifted to prevent mode, allowing Brown to find open receivers for big yardage, capped off by a two-yard TD by none other than Travis Dye, who finished the night with 82 yards, more than the Ducks rushed as a whole thanks to multiple tackles for loss that resulted in the rush unit gaining a total of 74 yards on the ground.
The Utah offense would run the final 4:42 off the clock, sealing a dominant victory as they were crowned PAC-12 champions for the first time since joining the Power Five ranks in 2011. As champs, the team will now take on one of the Big 10’s top teams in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.