‘We’ve just got to go out the best way we can at this point’: Utah Utes try to look forward to bowl after Pac… – Deseret News
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — It was a bit surreal. As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Pac-12 Championship Game, rain fell on Levi’s Stadium and Oregon’s mascot “Puddles” was walking the sideline with a giant rose in his mouth.
The night belonged to the Ducks. A 37-15 victory over fifth-ranked Utah left little doubt. They were the Pac-12 champs and they were the ones headed to the Rose Bowl.
“They were good up front — that offensive line is physical, played well in the front seven on defense,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They deserve a lot of credit.”
Oregon, as it turned out, did an “out-Utah” job on the Utes. The Ducks controlled the line of scrimmage and put up some impressive numbers on the ground.
“I guess you could say they beat us with our strength, where our strength lied. But they’ve been physical all year long, too,” Whittingham said. “They’re a good football team. They’ve won 10 games for a reason, 11 now. Two good teams going at it.”
Utah (11-2) struggled mightily in some areas, though. The Utes came in leading the nation in rushing defense (56.3 yards per game). They wound up surrendering 239 yards to Oregon, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Sophomore C.J. Verdell earned MVP honors, netting 208 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“Unfortunately we came up short tonight. Disappointing thing is, we lost in the one area we’ve been undefeated this year: the line of scrimmage,” Whittingham said. “We didn’t win the line of scrimmage for the first time all season, which is, like I say, is disappointing — surprising really.”
Senior safety Terrell Burgess expressed similar thoughts.
“That’s something we’ve been doing well all year. I guess tonight we just didn’t do it well,” he said of stopping the run. “I mean, there were some gaps that were there. We didn’t make tackles. We didn’t hold them to what we thought we should have.”
Oregon scored the game’s first points on a short touchdown run by Verdell midway through the opening quarter and never trailed.
Utah had a tough outing in several facets. Quarterback Tyler Huntley was sacked on six occasions and the Utes turned the ball over on downs four times. They were just 4 of 14 on third-down conversions.
“These guys, these players, they made up their mind they were going to establish the line of scrimmage,” said Oregon coach Mario Cristobal. “And they did.”
The Utes managed to cut a 20-point halftime deficit to 23-15 late in the third quarter. However, they surrendered 101 yards on two touchdown runs by Verdell in the fourth as the Ducks won handily.
“No one wants to lose. Nobody wants to lose any game. Nobody wants to lose a championship game,” Burgess said. “We have another chance to play with each other. We’ve just got to go out the best way we can at this point.”
As for all the hype, pressure and potential ramifications associated with trying to win the Pac-12 championship, Whittingham didn’t think it was a factor in the subpar performance by the Utes.
“I think our guys handled it the right way,” he said. “We just didn’t play very well tonight.”
Utah hopes for a College Football Playoff suffered a fatal blow with the lopsided loss. ESPN’s Heather Dinich, who covers the process, noted that the selection committee gathered in Texas Friday to eat dinner and watch the Pac-12 title game together. Dinich noted that the outcome crushed the conference’s hopes of being represented in the four-team playoff.
“On a night when the Pac-12 had the selection committee’s undivided attention as the only game being played, No. 5 Utah flopped in fantastic fashion, as two-loss Oregon thoroughly outplayed the Utes en route to winning the conference championship,” Dinich wrote on ESPN.com, adding that the outcome was exactly what the Big 12 needed.
On Saturday, No. 6 Oklahoma (12-1) likely punched its ticket to the playoff with a 30-23 overtime win over No. 7 Baylor (11-2) in the Big 12 championship. However, what really sealed the deal was No. 4 Georgia’s 37-10 loss to No. 2 Louisiana State in the SEC finale. The Bulldogs are now (11-2) overall.
The latter coupled with Oklahoma’s victory, Dinich noted, should make determining the top four extremely easy.
“The Big 12 champs should slide right in with little debate as the Sooners just added another top-10 win and conference title to their résumé,” Dinich explained.
Utah’s CFP ranking, though, could still be relevant. Should the Utes remain highly thought of, there’s the chance of a Cotton Bowl invite through an at-large berth in the New Year’s Six selections. A much more likely scenario, however, involves full Pac-12 affiliated bowls. Oregon is headed to the Rose Bowl, leaving the Alamo Bowl to choose between Utah and USC (8-4) with the second pick. Should it be the Trojans, the Utes could return to the Holiday Bowl again.
All will know Sunday (10 a.m., MT) on ESPN.
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