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Loss to Oregon jolts Utah's Pac-12 South title hopes

SALT LAKE CITY — To put it mildly, Utah’s 30-28 loss to Oregon Saturday provided quite a jolt. It shook up the Utes’ plans for a Pac-12 South title and an accompanying trip to the conference championship game.

The aftershocks following Darren Carrington’s game-winning touchdown catch in the far left corner of the end zone were felt as far away as California. That’s where USC’s Chris Hawkins reported it felt like an earthquake in the Trojans’ team hotel because of the implications.

When replay officials confirmed the score after a lengthy review and the final two seconds ticked off the clock on an ensuing kickoff return, the Utes (8-3, 5-3) were out of the race — leaving just USC (8-3, 7-2) and Colorado (9-2, 7-1) in contention.

The Buffaloes need a win over Utah Saturday (5:30 p.m., FOX) to finish on top. Otherwise, the Trojans advance because of a tiebreaker.

There was no joy in Uteville.

“Not what we wanted, very disappointed,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “We had our eyes set on the South Division and making it to the championship game. But bottom line, we didn’t get it done. There’s not a whole lot more to say.”

It was a missed opportunity on several fronts. Utah held a 14-3 lead midway through the third quarter. After that, the Utes allowed the Ducks to score touchdowns on their final four offensive possessions.

Whittingham lamented that the defense couldn’t get a stop when it needed one in the second half. He also noted that the first of Oregon’s four scores after the break was set up by a 45-yard punt return. Then, there were four straight punts by the Utes during the stretch.

“We couldn’t put a dagger in their heart when we could have on offense,” said Whittingham, who shouldered responsibility for the shared shortcomings. “But it’s a shame that we couldn’t take care of our business.”

After giving up an 11-point lead, Utah managed to take a pair of four-point advantages in the fourth quarter — countering Oregon scores with a fumble recovery by Chase Hansen in the end zone off a tipped punt return attempt by the Ducks and later on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Troy Williams to Evan Moeai.

In the end, though, it wasn’t enough. Oregon held statistical advantages in total offense (575-453) and conversions on third and fourth down (10-5).

“We had 250 yards of offense in the first half, but we didn’t finish drives and didn’t score enough,” Whittingham said of Utah’s 7-3 halftime lead. “The second half we didn’t make enough plays. That was the difference in the game. They made a play at the end.”

Whittingham added that Utah’s zone coverage on defense was “ridiculously bad” and “Oregon exposed it all day.”

And it all added up to be costly. The Utes lost to a downtrodden Ducks squad that entered the game with a 3-7 record overall and a 1-6 mark in Pac-12 play.

It came on “Senior Day” and left Utah’s players stunned.

“We (had) to make a play and we didn’t,” said defensive end Hunter Dimick. “It’s a tough loss.”

Running back Joe Williams was much more grumpy. He repeatedly responded to questions by mentioning Utah’s next opponent: “Colorado.” Shortly thereafter, Williams left the postgame press conference by saying “(expletive) happens” and “I’m done.”

The loss overshadowed eventful games for both seniors. Dimick became the team’s career sacks leader and Williams became the program’s 13th player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.

Utah dropped to 20th in the Coaches Poll and 21st in the Associated Press rankings with the setback. Although the Utes are bowl eligible, their ultimate destination is still up in the air.

Athletics director Chris Hill noted that there are still so many variations and derivatives involved in the Pac-12 bowl situation that a scheduled teleconference with league athletic directors was postponed last Wednesday.


Twitter: @DirkFacer