The 17th-ranked Utes have gone through a lot this season. The loss of their teammates Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe hung heavy throughout the year.
The two friends were honored by every team the Utes played. In every press conference that was held, they were mentioned. In interviews with players, their names came up. Aaron Lowe’s mother, Donna Lowe-Sterns, even served as an honorary captain of the game.
During Friday’s 38-10 win over No. 10 Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, the Utes were riding on the wings of angels, and players and fans recognized it.
In a post-game interview, star LB Devin Lloyd, who was named MVP of the game, said that “I also believe that they were there guiding us throughout the whole season. They were able to help us create things that I don’t think we ever would have done without them.”
In a year of tragedy and uncertainty, the Utah Utes have won their first Pac-12 Championship.
— Utah Athletics (@utahathletics) December 4, 2021
A Dominating Defense
As the Utes advance to 10-3, they do so in large part because of their defense. Defensive Coordinator Morgan Scalley didn’t have to do anything crazy. There wasn’t a lot of misdirection or hidden coverages. Instead, he dared Oregon QB Anthony Brown and the Oregon receivers to win one-on-one battles.
Thanks to the defensive line’s ability to get pressure with just four down linemen, the Utes were able to play a lot of two-safety looks, which made it difficult for Oregon to beat Utah over the top. Because of this, Utah was able to hold Brown to 13/24 on passing attempts, only 147 passing yards, and two interceptions, both of which led to points for the Utes.
Part of the reason Devin Lloyd was named game MVP was for a pick-six that happened on the Ducks’ second drive of the game. Lloyd was able to jump a route, grab the ball and show off some incredible speed as he raced 34 yards to the endzone.
I’ve watched every game the Utes have played this year, and Lloyd has never been as fast as he was as he outpaced receivers and running backs on that play.
The other interception Brown threw was one of the most ill-advised plays of his career. With just eight seconds left, Brown rolled to his right to avoid getting sacked and tried to force a play as he jumped out of bounds, throwing the ball to a surprised Malone Mataele, who plays CB for the Utes.
Mataele’s pick set up a quick pass from Utes QB Cam Rising to WR Britain Covey, and then a 50-yard field goal from K Jason Redding.
— Holly Rowe (@sportsiren) December 4, 2021
Offense Did Their Job
You know, there’s a little bit of disconnect between the score of this game and the offensive stats. Looking at Rising’s throwing stats, given that he went 15/24 for 170 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, you’d say, man, he played poorly.
Looking at the rushing stats for the Utes, you’d say it was an okay day for one of the most deadly rushing attacks in the nation. They only ran for 191 yards, so it wasn’t a crazy game for them. RB Tavion Thomas produced just 63 yards on 3.5 yards a carry, so he didn’t play well, I guess.
It would be easy to say all that, but if you watched the game, that just wasn’t the case.
Cam Rising, though he did make two big first-half errors with his interceptions, one a bad decision and the other a result of getting hit while throwing, had an amazing game. When the Utes needed him to step up, he did, converting a big third down on the first drive that led to a touchdown, and several other third downs with his legs.
Rising even stiff-armed Oregon star Noah Sewell as part of a 40-yard read-option play that set up a Tavion Thomas touchdown.
All the offense did, really, was their job. It’s not often you can look at a game where you score 38 points and think “well, it should’ve been 50,” but that’s how I feel about this game. The Utes didn’t stun anyone on offense. They just kept converting on third and fourth down, going 6/13 on third downs and 3/3 on fourth-down conversion attempts.
The Ute offense also held onto the ball. Utah won the time-of-possession battle by a margin of five minutes, and it would’ve been more if Coach Whittingham didn’t pull his defensive starters halfway through the fourth quarter.
It wasn’t a dream.
CHAMPIONS OF THE PAC12 🌹 pic.twitter.com/jyGJ43HrgZ
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) December 4, 2021
A Trip to Pasadena
The Utes are finally headed to Pasadena, and not the one in Texas. We’re talking about the Rose Bowl, the Granddaddy of them All. This will be the Utes’ first trip to the Rose Bowl, where they will square off against a Big Ten team that has yet to be decided.
The most likely outcome is that the Utes will play Ohio State, which happens if Michigan beats Iowa in their conference championship, as that would send Michigan to the playoff and the team with the second-best in-conference record, who is Ohio State, to the Rose Bowl.
If Iowa beats Michigan, then they would be the Big Ten champions, and play against Utah.
Checking the Crystal Ball
The ball predicted a Utah blowout, but didn’t quite hit the score. Actually, it was off in a number of ways.
- Tavion Thomas rushes for 150+ yards. Thomas only ran for 63, so the ball comes up short there.
- Anthony Brown throws two or more touchdowns. Brown did not throw two or more touchdowns. He actually threw two less than that.
- Devin Lloyd has 13 total tackles. Lloyd only had seven tackles, but a pick-six should count for like, six more tackles.
- Cam Rising doesn’t throw an interception. Cam Rising threw two more interceptions than Brown did touchdowns. Rising threw two interceptions.
- Utah takes the game 31-17. I mean, this is really close. Just move those seven points from Oregon to Utah and you got it.