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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Washington Huskies are headed to the Rose Bowl.
The No. 11 Huskies defeated the No. 17 Utah Utes 10-3 in the Pac-12 Championship game Friday. The win gives the Huskies a spot in the Rose Bowl and an opportunity to play a team from the Big Ten on New Year's Day.
In a game determined by the defense, it was Washington cornerback Byron Murphy that made the game-clinching score after picking off a ball intended to Utah receiver Siaosi Mariner. Utah was marching downfield when quarterback Jason Shelley tossed a ball to Mariner that was dropped and hit Mariner’s leg. Murphy corralled the ball before the ball hit the ground and returned it for 66 yards for the only touchdown of the night.
"We've been waiting for that to happen this season," Washington head coach Chris Petersen said. "Last year, we had a lot of turnovers and we scored on defense. This is the first time we got that done this season, and it was the best time for that to happen."
Murphy would finish the game with two interceptions and was named the game's most valuable player for his game-winning score and all-around game-changing effort against the Utes.
Washington was the first to score in the game on a 29-yard field goal late in the second quarter. The Huskies had been in the red zone multiple times before the score, but an acrobatic interception recovered by Utah’s Javelin Guidry and a separate turnover on downs by Washington kept the Huskies from scoring more.
The Huskies repeatedly decided to go for it on fourth down deep inside Utah's territory, but failed to get anything out of their attempts. Washington would go 2-of-4 on fourth-down attempts on the night.
Utah would block a Washington field goal attempt with just over 5 minutes left in the game to claim another defensive victory and another opportunity to equalize. But Shelley would throw his third interception of the game on the ensuing drive.
Still, Utah had one final attempt to tie up the game after stopping Washington's next drive with just over 3 minutes left to play. Utah would drive the field and got into Washington territory before facing a fourth-and-12 situation.
Shelley's pass to Mariner, though, was deflected by Murphy, who jumped the route and got to the ball. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham believed there should have been a pass interference penalty called because Murphy made contact with Mariner before he had a chance to catch the ball.
Whittingham argued with the refs as the clock expired, yelling "how can you not call that?" repeatedly.
"Did you see the same thing I saw?" Whittingham rhetorically asked media after the game. "I don't know how I can say anything without getting fined, but I'm used to it."
Although Utah's loss came off a controversial no-call, it was the offensive struggles that ultimately doomed their ability to challenge the Huskies. Utah finished with only 188 yards of total offense. Shelley threw for 137 yards and three interceptions on 17-of-27 passing.
"It was tough," Whittingham said. "It was tough going, tough to get it through. (We) didn't get much going.
"But to do what he did as a redshirt freshman, then to rip off three here in this situation, (I'm) very proud of him. He's a redshirt freshman and the experience maybe caught yo to him tonight."
The biggest blow to the offense came when sophomore receiver Britain Covey sustained a knee injury to start the second half. Covey attempted to return the opening kickoff of the half, but was brought down. He was slow to get up as the training staff attended to Covey, who eventually limped off the field before being taken to the locker room.
Covey would return to the sidelines, but had a brace on his knee and was on crutches. Whittingham said Covey's injury "doesn't look good," but that it's "too early to say." Covey becomes the third major offensive player to go down with an injury for Utah this season.
For the second consecutive week, Utah was shutout in the first half and only managed 61 yards of total offense as the Huskies led 3-0 heading into the locker room at halftime. Utah had one last opportunity to score before the half, but allowed the clock to expire after quarterback Jason Shelley was sacked outside field goal territory.
Whittingham said Utah had the wind in their face, so a field goal attempt was out of the question, and he was unsure whether Shelley could heave the ball that far downfield for a Hail Mary attempt.
Utah will learn its bowl destination Sunday following the College Football Playoff Selection Sunday show.