SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With the College Football Playoffs potentially on the line, No. 5 Utah came up drastically short Friday night in a Pac-12 Championship Game loss to the No. 13 Oregon Ducks.
The Utes were outworked and outplayed as the Ducks took control of the game early and forced Utah to play catchup. And though Utah stayed in the game up until the fourth quarter, the effort wasn’t good enough and the Utes fell victim to the better team.
Here’s a look at where Utah lost their second game of the season.
Down in the trenches
Simply put, Utah lost the battle and the war on the offensive line. The defensive line had its moments and gave up its most rushing yards in a game all season — 239 rushing yards — but it was the offensive line play that hurt the team the most.
Oregon’s defensive line wreaked havoc and put pressure on Utes quarterback Tyler Huntley all game. The senior quarterback had little time to allow plays to develop before he was pressured or got sacked. Huntley finished the night being sacked six times, but managed to escape a few more.
Ducks defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux lived in the backfield and made life extremely difficult for Utah.
The Utes haven’t been perfect this season on the line, but this is the first real test where Utah got exposed and outplayed. Offensive line play is extremely difficult to fix when an opponent is loading up the box and bringing the pressure, but it’s a good reminder that Utah’s preseason inexperience on the line ended up being a downfall Friday night.
This is an area where Utah has struggled all season. The problem is, it was never really an issue for the Utes in all their decisive wins in Pac-12 play. But it all came to a head Friday when Oregon made Utah pay.
Oregon was intent on disrupting Utah’s run game and forcing the Utes to beat them through the air. But Huntley, particularly in the first half, never had enough time to get passes off and was forced to scramble for his life. So Oregon reloaded and continued to pressure Utah all the way to a 20-point lead in the first half.
The Utes got behind the sticks and were forced to attempt third- and fourth-down attempts on short yardage but couldn’t convert with the loaded box. Play-calling wasn’t Utah’s friend here either as they continued to run similar plays to keep coming up short. In total, Utah entered the half 0 for 6 on third down and 0 for 2 on fourth down.
Utah managed four third-down conversions in the second half, but still finished 4 of 14 on third down and 0 of 4 on fourth down on the night. Without being able to extend the drives, Utah had little opportunity to stage a comeback.
Living up to expectations
Entering the game, Utah had everything at stake: a likely College Football Playoff berth or the team’s first Rose Bowl appearance. But the moment was too much.
It’s not that Utah was overshadowed by the moment — they’ve been here before — but they didn’t seem to account for Oregon’s talent. Head coach Kyle Whittingham said he didn’t sense the team was approaching the game any different than the previous 12 before it, but there was little Utah could do to combat the physicality of Oregon.
Nothing Utah did seemed to work and the pressure mounted. The moment was too much for the Utes and the Ducks shined.