Late Saturday afternoon, Pac-12 South champion Utah finally found out its opponent in next Friday’s Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas.
Oregon defeated Oregon State 38-29 to earn the Pac-12 North title, setting up a rematch with the Utes, who throttled the Ducks 38-7 at Rice-Eccles Stadium a week ago.
This marks Oregon’s third consecutive Pac-12 Championship Game appearance.
The Utes, who will play in the Pac-12 championship for the third time in four years, began preparing even before they knew who they were facing, according to Utah wide receiver Britain Covey.
“We’ve been in two Pac-12 championship games and we’ve lost both of them, so we’ve got a good mindset in knowing what it takes. That game is different than any other game,” Covey said Friday night.
“I mean, it’s like a chess match. You’ve got a whole season of film on your opponent. It’s just as much mental as it is physical. So I think that’s something we can do better this year — focus on the mental side of things. But man, I’m excited. We’ve been waiting for this since the last time we were there. I’m pumped.”
The Utes lost to Oregon 37-15 in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship game in Santa Clara, California.
This will be the first time the Pac-12 Championship Game will be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
After Utah’s 28-13 victory over Colorado in the regular-season finale Friday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, coach Kyle Whittingham was anxious to know his Pac-12 championship opponent.
“As soon as we know who that’s going to be, then we’ll get started, if not sooner,” he said. “We’ll start on some preliminary stuff for all three teams. We’ll figure that out as we go along.”
The first piece of the puzzle fell into place when Washington State crushed archrival Washington 40-13 in the Apple Cup Friday night.
Had Oregon State beaten Oregon, the Cougars would have won the Pac-12 North tiebreaker and advanced to the title game.
Oregon jumped out to a 24-3 halftime lead and they increased that advantage to 31-9 early in the fourth quarter.
But Oregon State scored two touchdowns to cut the deficit to 31-21 with 8:28 remaining. The Ducks sealed the victory by scoring a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Travis Dye.
Dye finished with 99 yards and two TDs on 20 carries, and quarterback Anthony Brown completed 23 of 28 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns.
It was a chippy game that featured player ejections on both sides.
Overall, the Ducks bounced back pretty well after getting humiliated by Utah a week ago when the Utes dominated Oregon from start to finish and held the Ducks to 63 rushing yards.
“All that will be out the window and this game will be its own entity and we’ve got to play well,” Whittingham said Friday night.
Utah has won eight of its last nine games — its only Pac-12 loss came at the hands of Oregon State in October — and Whittingham is happy about the momentum his team has built, even after an uneven performance against Colorado.
“The key was to stay healthy (against the Buffaloes) and I think we did that,” Whittingham said. “We may have a few bumps and bruises, but we have a full week so we should get some guys healed up.”
The Utes wore special “22 Forever” helmets in honor of their fallen teammates, Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe. The school honored Jordan and Lowe between the third and fourth quarters of the last four home games with a video tribute and a “moment of loudness.”
“It was great. Just to have that tribute one more time — to see that between the third and fourth quarters was awesome,” Whittingham said. “It’s emotional for me every time I see it. We love those guys. They’re on the forefront of our minds all of the time. We’ll continue to memorialize them and pay tribute to them. It’s awesome.”
Friday also marked Senior Day and 18 seniors and juniors that could leave with eligibility remaining were honored before kickoff.
One of those players, junior linebacker Devin Lloyd, a Butkus Award finalist, said his emotions were stirred.
“When I walked out of the tunnel, seeing everyone standing there, seeing my parents, it hit me that this is the last time that I play in this stadium,” he said. “A really special moment, a really special way to go out.”
During the game, fans chanted Covey’s name every time he lined up to receive a punt. He let himself savor those moments.
“Normally, I don’t let myself get in that headspace. But today I just listened to it,” he said. “It was beautiful and I loved it. I’m just a Utah Man. I love this stadium, I love the fans. It means a lot that they would do that.”
Covey hasn’t decided his future yet but Friday may have been his final home game.
But right now, he’s focused on next Friday’s Pac-12 Championship game against Oregon.