Utes win the Pac-12 for the first time and are through to their first Rose Bowl after beating the Ducks for the second time in 13 days
Las Vegas A sea of red welcomed the University of Utah football program to its destination.
An engaged, full-throated, pro-Utes crowd showed up Friday night for the Pac-12 Championship game at Allegiant Stadium. Thousands of them. They flew into McCarran Airport on Thursday and Friday, they made the 400 mile drive south on Interstate-15, they all had one goal and they accomplished it.
Allegiant Stadium was Rice-Eccles South Friday night.
With the Utah stalwarts in full force, they were rewarded with a performance for all ages. Utah took the lead on its opening run, the defense stifling and the second half was largely a formality as the Utes took a 38-10 win for 56,511.
In its 11th season as a member of the Pac-12, Utah (10-3) is through to its first Rose Bowl, which will be played in its traditional New Year’s Day slot (3:00 p.m. ESPN) at the iconic 92,542-seat venue.
If you had told me after three games that we would be here now, I would have said you are crazy, said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.
Indeed, few could have predicted this when the Utes went 1-2 against a non-conference schedule of Weber State, BYU and San Diego State.
It’s really surreal now, it’s really starting to get to me, Devin Lloyd said after being named MVP with seven tackles, five of which were solo, and an interception return for a touchdown. I’m just so excited for everyone out there. They sacrificed for nine months, giving everything they have.
As with the first meeting between these two teams 13 days ago, a 38-7 Utah win that put the then No. 3 Ducks out of College Football Playoff, the Utes dominated the Ducks in the first half.
Up, 14-0, and after taking in a few Cam Rising interceptions, the defense was up all night. Oregons six first-half drives yielded just 53 total yards. Three of those six drives were good for six yards or less, as Oregon passed midfield only twice.
With that lead, the most important part of the first half came when Utah took the ball back at 4:04 before halftime. The Utes got their hasty attack under way, marching 74 yards over 12 plays and 3:37, capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass over the center of Cam Rising to Dalton Kincaid for a 20-0 lead.
They won their matchups, both from a player and coaching standpoint, said Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.
Running back Tavion Thomas did much of the early work on that drive as Utah methodically got his run game going, but Rising and Kincaid made the two big plays at the end. A 29-yard pass from Rising to Kincaid played two games before the touchdown came on third and 14, bringing fresh downs for the Utes on the 11.
Rising finished the night 15-for-24 for 170 yards, a touchdown and the two interceptions, being asked to do a little more than he’s been for the past few weeks when Thomas and the offensive line were the stars of offense. Utah for the better part of the past six weeks.
An unexplained pass by Anthony Brown on the next stage in Oregon was picked off the sidelines by Malone Mataele, placing the Utes inside the Oregon 40-yard line with eight seconds left in the half.
That short drive yielded a 50-yard Jadon Redding field goal to send Utah into halftime, 23-0.
Utah took a 7-0 lead on the opening drive, the teams traded points, then Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Devin Lloyd announced his presence.
On the second and 10 of the Oregon 25, Lloyd eyed the Oregon quarterback Browns, then stepped for a pass, intercepted it and took it back 34 yards for his second pick six of the season and a 14-0 Utes lead. at the 4:16 mark of the first quarter.
Utah secured that lead, overcoming the two Rising interceptions, one on a play in which Ducks linebacker Noah Sewell jumped a route, and the other where Thorpe Award finalist Verone McKinley III plucked a wobbly pass out of the air after Rising in the sack. was crushed by defensive tackle Kristian Williams.
Attention now turns to Saturday night’s Big Ten championship game as Utah waits for its Rose Bowl opponent. If Michigan beats Iowa, the Wolverines will likely go to the College Football Playoff. In that case, the Rose Bowl would be left to select the highest-ranking Big Ten team to play it against the Utes. That would probably be the state of Ohio. A Hawkeyes win would send them to Pasadena.
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