The ending of the Rose Bowl was heartbreaking. The Utes played their hearts out and came away just short of winning. While the moment was painful, this game must not be judged simply on the final outcome. When viewed in the greater context of the season, there is room for nothing but optimism.
It can be easy to forget, but the vast majority of this team are underclassmen. Coach Whittingham noted, "We're excited about the youth and talent on this football team. We went through the roster the other day, and it was 72 of our 85 scholarship guys are scheduled to be freshmen or sophomores again". In fact, most of the biggest moments from last night came from players who will return next year.
Below is a summary of key performances from players confirmed to return in 2022, along with their class for the 2022 season:
Micah Bernard - SO (RS) - 3 car, 31 yds rushing, 2 rec, 15 yds receiving, 1 TD, 10 tackles, 9 solo tackles
Micah Bernard, a running back, received the impossible task of learning to play cornerback less than a month before playing one of the best passing offenses in college football. Bernard accepted the challenge. While he got burned by a first-round WR talent a couple of times, he led the team in tackles and solo tackles. This would have been enough, but he did this while also handling his regular RB duties and playing special teams. He also made what was arguably the best catch of the night with this touchdown grab.
MICAH BERNARD FINGER-TIP CATCH FOR THE TD! pic.twitter.com/UiZ4awFBiV— ESPN (@espn) January 1, 2022
Clark Phillips III - SO - 5 tackles, 4 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup
CPIII played with his hair on fire against the Buckeyes. He was personally responsible for forcing both Buckeye turnovers. Both the forced fumble and the interception likely saved touchdowns from occurring. No doubt he made an impression that made Buckeye fans and anyone watching that game wish he was on their team.
Cole Bishop - SO - 8 tackles, 4 solo tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 fumble recovery
Cole Bishop has made a habit of being all over the place and wreaking havoc on the opposing team's offense. The Rose Bowl was no different as Bishop was second on the team in tackles. He also made a clutch fumble recovery by leaping on the ball knocked loose in the end zone by CPIII.
Cam Rising - JR (RS) - 17/22 C/Att, 77.3% completion, 214 yds passing, 2 TD, 92 yds rushing, 1 TD, 189.0 passer rating
First, we are glad to hear that Cam is doing well after the injury. Before the injury, Cam was having one of his best games of the season. His 189.0 passer rating and 77.3% completion rate were second only to his performance against USC. He also showcased how dynamic he can be on the ground, racking up close to 100 yards on the ground.
Brant Kuithe - SR - 6 rec, 77 yds receiving, 7 yds rushing
Brant Kuithe was a huge factor for the Utes offense, and the offense was never the same once he hurt his ankle. Kuithe's biggest moment came in the first quarter with a tone-setting, 27-yard reception in which he broke several tackles.
Cameron Peasley - SO - 3 punts, 38 yd avg
Cameron Peasley had the punting performance of the season. He downed all three punts inside the 20-yard line, placing two on the 10-yard line and one on the 15. If he can keep this up, the Utes' punting situation will be much better off next season.
Bryson Barnes - FR (RS) - 2/2 C/Att, 23 yds passing, 1 TD, 10 yds rushing
Bryson Barnes, a walk-on, likely did not expect to get in the game that night, but he made his opportunity count when he did. Barnes led the team on a drive late in the fourth quarter culminating in an epic touchdown pass to Kincaid to tie the game.
The fact of the matter is this: Utah played an incredibly talented and well-coached team. This Ohio State football team was capable of competing for the national championship. Against this opponent, Utah put up 45 points, losing by only a field goal. This is something of which this team can be incredibly proud, and we, as fans, can be proud of the effort and passion displayed by our team on the field last night.
The future is brighter than ever.