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Smelling roses: No. 17 Utah claims Pac-12 title in dominant win over No. 10 Oregon


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Estimated read time: 5-6 minutes

LAS VEGAS — A change of venues for the Pac-12 championship game was good for No. 17 Utah.

The first championship game played in Las Vegas was all Utes — the fans, the final score and everything in between. Utah used a 23-0 halftime lead to cruise to the program's first-ever Pac-12 title and Rose Bowl appearance in a 38-10 win over the No. 10 Ducks. The third time's the charm.

Those roses are smelling extra good this time of the year.

"It's a history-making football team at Utah; we've never won the Pac-12, and so proud of them for that and in the convincing fashion that they did it," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. "If you would have told me that after (the first) three games we're going to be here right now, I would have said you're crazy, but these guys just wouldn't go down."

Whittingham said his team was not going to be "denied this time around" after losing in the conference championship in 2018 and 2019. And to his team's credit, Utah controlled the game from start to finish and did to Oregon what it traditionally does to every other opponent it plays.

And coming off a 38-7 win against the Ducks 13 days ago at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Whittingham said there was no doubt his team was on a mission to finish the job.

"We had the same mentality and mindset and focus and that look in their eye that they had two weeks ago," Whittingham said. "And I think in either of those games, I don't think it would have mattered who we were playing. These guys were absolutely locked in and on a mission, and they were not going to be denied.

"And as talented and as good a football team as Oregon is — I mean, they beat Ohio State at Ohio State; they were third in the nation at one time; I mean, they're a talented crew — but our guys, they were very determined, very motivated."

In total, Utah outscored the Ducks 76-17 in the two games played this season.

"It's really surreal right now," said linebacker Devin Lloyd, who was named the game's most valuable player. "It's slowly coming to me, but I'm just so excited and just filled with joy and excitement for everyone on the team who's just sacrificed these last nine months of just giving everything they have. I mean, this the outcome of that and I couldn't be any more proud of my team."

Utah was far from perfect in the championship contest, but the team played the aggressor all night and kept Oregon one dimensional — Oregon rushed for only 74 yards — for much of the game in which 56,511 fans — a majority of which were Utah fans making the trek from Salt Lake City — got to see the teams compete for the first time in Allegiant Stadium.

Utah Utes running back Micah Bernard (2) celebrates after Utah beat the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021.
Utah Utes running back Micah Bernard (2) celebrates after Utah beat the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

Utah's Cam Rising had two interceptions in the game, but Oregon couldn't capitalize on the turnovers against a Utah defense that would not be denied. The defense held the Ducks scoreless in the first half — the second time this season — and allowed only 65 total yards of offense in the opening half performance. Oregon finished with 221 total yards, most of it in the second half.

Rising finished the night throwing for 170 yards and one touchdown on 15-of-24 passing.

The story of the game — much like its win over Oregon in Salt Lake City two weeks ago — was Utah's ability to convert on third- and fourth-down drives and Oregon's inability to do so. The Ducks also had several key penalties. Utah finished the game converting 6 of 13 third downs and was a perfect 2 of 2 on fourth downs in the win.

The Ducks failed to convert a single third down on the night in seven tries.

Oregon's finished with nine penalties, which cost them 86 yards in the game — most of which in costly situations, such as a pass interference call in the red zone to set up Utah's first touchdown of the night. Utah running back Tavion Thomas ran for 2 yards untouched up the middle after the favorable spot and scored his 19th rushing touchdown of the season to give the Utes the early lead.

Thomas later added a 4-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to score his 20th rushing touchdown of the season — five more than the previous Utah all-time record. He finished the night with 63 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 attempts as Utah finished with an average of 4.8 yards gains on every rushing attempt.

Lloyd added to the early scoring for the Utes by reading a play call against Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown. The senior linebacker jumped the route, picked off the pass in stride and returned it untouched 34 yards for a touchdown to give the Utes a two-touchdown lead and all the momentum — or at least more of it from a team that was not to be deterred from its goals.

Brown finished the night throwing for 114 yards on 12-of-23 passing and added another interception with eight seconds left in the first half. The quarterback rolled out of the pocket and made a B-line for the sideline, but in a desire to make a play he threw an unexplicable ball into the hands of Malone Mataele, who quickly jumped out of bound to give Utah some time on the clock.

Utah capitalized with a 50-yard field goal by Jadon Redding.

Oregon managed its first points of the game on the opening drive of the second half, but not enough to keep in pace with the Utes. The Ducks used a run-heavy attack from Travis Dye to get into the red zone, but Utah's defense held the Ducks to a 42-yard field goal. All that was left for the Ducks was a garbage time touchdown to get the team in double digits.

It all led to Utah celebrating on the podium in the end.

"I promise you one thing, they're going to travel to the Rose Bowl," Whittingham said. "I guarantee you that."

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