Utah football defeats Oregon’s No.3, ending Pac-12 college football playoff hopes

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Of the four walls that make up the Rich and Holly Day press conference room at Rice-Eccles Stadium, two of them are made of glass. So when Kyle Whittingham sits down to address the media, anyone across the glass in front of him or to his right can see him.

Following an outright decimation of No.3 Oregon on Saturday night, Whittingham took his usual place on a makeshift platform inside the press conference room. This time, those people on the other side of the two glass walls gave Whittingham a standing ovation, both before and after his 9-minute session.

This ovation was well deserved. Well deserved because of what the past two months have been for this football program, for what Saturday night has been, for what this season can still be.

Whittingam will deflect all praise, but the truth is that this Pac-12 South title, this trip to the Pac-12 championship game under these conditions, doesn’t happen without someone at the top pulling all the right strings, pulling all the right strings. the right buttons.

With Whittingham at the helm, Utah can now begin planning a trip to Las Vegas in 12 days.

The last 27 seconds of the first half

Oregon kicker Camden Lewis hadn’t missed a field goal this season, but in the first two quarters against Utah he had one blocked by Cole Bishop, then fought off a 41-yard attempt to the right. Instantly, the Utes went straight to the field.

Cam Rising to Brant Kuithe in the middle for 49 yards, TJ Pledger with a 17 yard run to the 5 yard line, Tavion Thomas scored four yards for a 21-0 lead with 27 seconds left.

At this point, knowing he would have the ball to start the third quarter, Oregon wanted to score, but incomplete passes on the first and second down gave way to a 7-yard run from Travis Dye on the third and 10.

No one would have beaten an eyelash if Whittingham had let the time pass, but instead called the time out with 11 seconds remaining. This put Oregon in a position where they had to kick, which would likely give Utah one more game before half-time.

The Utes never got that play because Oregon punter Tom Snee inexplicably sent it back to Britain Covey, among the Pac-12’s most dangerous punt returns. His 78-yard punt return for a touchdown featured a multitude of blocks and Covey dodging an ankle tackle around the Oregon 40 before finding daylight, the end zone and a 28-0 lead. at halftime.

This game very quickly went from tilting the Utah Path to an ink finish. The Utes led 14-0, while getting the basket blocked and the dud. If Utah is up, 14-6, at halftime with Oregon picking up the ball, that thing’s complexion is totally different. Instead, while 21-0 was not insurmountable, but 28-0 was.

Covey’s recall of the game in the post-match press conference was impressive. He compared the game to practice, with six guys blocking for him and finishing the game at full speed. On this particular play, Covey caught blocks from Micah Bernard, Solomon Enis, Connor O’Toole and two from Kamo’i Latu before finally breaking free for the score.

Tavion Thomas did what he did in seven games

Thomas had 94 yards and three touchdowns in 21 carries on Saturday night. His second touchdown was No. 16 of the season, eclipsing the program’s single-season rushing touchdown record of 15, previously held by Zack Moss and John White.

Thomas’ season – 851 yards, 17 touchdowns and 5.8 yards per carry – needs context. Those stats, which, of course, are garish and worthy of a major All-Pac-12 review in just a few weeks, have essentially been accomplished in just seven games.

At the start of the season, Thomas was the child star of the serious ball safety issues facing this team. Remember the time Utah escaped Washington State eight times on September 25 and still won?

Thomas was in the doghouse for almost a month. He fumbled once against BYU and had a second loss by contact. He completed seven races that night, then one against San Diego State and Washington State. All the while, Whittingham kept praising Thomas, so I felt like at some point everything would come back around him, and it happened.

In his last three games, Thomas has racked up 431 yards and 11 touchdowns as the offensive line, no matter who held the inside-3 positions, was dominant.

Thomas did what he did on Saturday night after sitting down in Arizona for what were believed to be precautionary reasons after bumping into Stanford for a bit, which brings us back to the point of origin.

Thomas has officially played in 10 of Utah’s 11 games, but for all intents and purposes he’s played seven, maybe eight if you want to tackle the BYU game, where he wasn’t a big factor.

In seven games, Thomas has tinkered with an all-time season for a Utah running back, of whom there have been many very good, if not very good, and he has three more games to add.

The growth of the offensive line has been a huge key

Injuries during training camp, injuries and inexperience early in the season, mixing and matching the whole unit.

It all led to the Stanford game, where Utah seemed to find something. Left guard Keaton Bills was absent, so Nick Ford slid from center to left guard and Paul Maile entered instead of Ford in center.

Those two, plus left tackle Bam Olaseni, right guard Sataoa Laumea and right tackle Braeden Daniels appeared to be Utah’s top five. Utah ran for 290 yards against UCLA, 441 yards against the Cardinal and 174 against Arizona with those five, but that trip to the desert came at a cost.

Maile was injured, didn’t dress up against Oregon, so what was Whittingham supposed to do? Bills was available in Arizona, so he returned to the left guard post on Saturday night and Ford returned to the center. The result? Fifty carries for 208 yards and four touchdowns against a Ducks defense that came in the evening, generating a low of 121.2 rushing yards per game.

Six weeks ago, as this offensive line struggled, this fan base wanted offensive line coach Jim Harding sacked. Now he deserves all the credit because his job hasn’t been easy with injuries and the reshuffle. Ford is Ford, it’s a rock for this unit, but Olasaeni and Daniels have both been excellent. Maile has done a commendable job in those three games at center, and I thank Bills for being ready to return immediately on Saturday to a high-stakes place.

Cam Rising runs this offense

The term “game manager” has a negative connotation. This implies that a quarterback is a pedestrian, unable to do much more than not return the ball.

Rising has by no means been a ‘game manager’ in that sense, but he felt like he hadn’t had to do much lately, which is fair considering the quality. offensive line and ball carriers.

Still, Rising is more than the guy who hands it over to Thomas. He’s having an All-Pac-12 season, full of moments remembered that Utah won’t be heading to Las Vegas in less than two weeks for the Pac-12 Championship game without him.

Utah’s first scoring record was full of Rising moments. On the third and 6 of his 41s, Rising left the pocket, rushed to the right, passed Kayvon Thibodeaux on the sideline and picked up eight yards. Third and 6, Rising in the middle for seven. The Utes were 4-for-4 for third on that record, Rising was responsible for two of them.

Complements 21 and 29 yards, respectively, to Brant Kuithe early in the second quarter on a practice that ended in a touchdown. The aforementioned 49-yard pass to Kuithe, and that was a big key to the night. Get Kuithe involved in a meaningful way, as Oregon’s second tier had no answer for this showdown.

Up for the night: 10 for 18, 178 yards, no serious mistakes.

Up for the season: 1,930 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions, a 63% completion percentage, no such glaring error.

He is more than a “game manager”. Frankly, he should be the first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback.

Other things on my mind

• Saturday was a legitimate big game atmosphere at Rice-Eccles. The press gallery was shaking during Covey’s punt return TD.

• Utah led 14-0 at Oregon State on October 23 and lost. Utah is 7-1 against the Pac-12 and will be the betting favorite against Colorado on Friday (2 p.m., FOX).

• Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig called it a great game, mainly because it was little more than very straightforward. My favorite. First scoring practice, third and 9 for Oregon 10 after Thomas picked up a yard and Rising missed a pass to Covey. The ball went to Thomas, in the middle of the 10-yard touchdown run. It was a great confidence from Ludwig that the offensive line would do its job.

• Devin Lloyd said during spring training that one of the reasons he chose to return to Utah this fall was that he wanted a ring. There are a bunch of guys on this team who got to the gate in 2018 and 2019. That shouldn’t be lost here as Lloyd could be getting paid right now. Ford and probably Kuithe too.

• Covey had 190 versatile yards against Oregon. If these are the last games of his college career, everyone should appreciate this guy because he is electric when he ramps him up.

• Cole Bishop is going to be very, very good for Utah on the road. Junior Tafuna has this look on him too, as do a bunch of other guys playing with freshman eligibility. It’s easy to forget, this Utah team is still quite young.

• Rising was sacked on Saturday for the first time since October 9. It’s been six games. Yes, that offensive line has come a long way.


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