It was deja vu when the Utah Utes and Oregon Ducks met for a second time.
With a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, Utah beat Oregon 38-10 Friday to win its first-ever Pac-12 championship.
Over two games in two weeks, the Utes outscored the Ducks 76-17, leaving no doubt as to who the best team in the Pac-12 was in 2021.
Utah completed a total turnaround since starting the season 1-2. It’ll enter the Rose Bowl with a 10-3 overall record and a a program-record nine conference wins.
Here are the grades from the Utes’ Rose Bowl-clinching victory:
The most impressive thing about Utah’s offensive performance on Friday was how Cam Rising was able to shake off his two interceptions.
Up 14-0 in the second quarter, Rising threw interceptions on back-to-back drives. The first was picked off by Noah Sewell, and then after Utah’s defense forced a missed field goal, Rising drove Utah down to the Oregon 30-yard line but got hit hard by Kristian Williams.
As the ball fluttered in the air, Verone McKinley III made an incredible diving interception (on the play before the interception, Rising had fumbled when Trikweze Bridges punched the ball out from behind as Rising ran to convert on fourth down, but the ball bounced out of bounds).
With a 14-0 lead, Utah could have broken the game wide open on the two possessions. Throwing two interceptions in Oregon territory in a conference championship game, with the Rose Bowl on the line, would certainly be enough to rattle most quarterbacks.
But after Utah forced a three-and-out following the pick, Rising led the Utes down the field on a 12-play, 74-yard drive for a touchdown.
Rising had a key 29-yard pass to Dalton Kincaid on third and 14 to get it to Oregon’s 11-yard line, and then Rising then threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kincaid that put Utah up 20-0 with eight seconds left in the first half.
That drive epitomized why Rising was named a captain to start the year and why he was given the reigns of the team in Week 3. He has a confident and calm demeanor and rarely lets mistakes get the best of him.
Rising was 15 for 24 for 170 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions on the night. He had an 87.6 (out of 100) quarterback rating, according to ESPN.
He also rushed for 61 yards, including a 41-yard run, and was vital on a couple quarterback sneaks for Utah.
Tavion Thomas and the Utah running backs had one of their quieter performance of the season. Thomas rushed for 63 yards on 18 carries, Micah Bernard had 38 yards on six carries and TJ Pledger had 20 yards on five carries, with Chris Curry getting nine yards on two carries.
While Thomas was fighting for extra yards on one play, Noah Sewell punched the ball out — a rare fumble by Thomas these days, who has had great ball security since fumbling in the Weber State and BYU games — although Utah recovered it.
When called upon in the red zone, though, Thomas scored two touchdowns and Pledger added on a second.
Britain Covey had five receptions for 72 yards, while Kincaid had four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Kincaid, and all of Utah’s tight ends, provided key blocks throughout the night.
Utah’s offensive line was a little shaky at the beginning with a few false start penalties, but the unit protected Rising well enough, allowing just one sack.
What Utah’s defense did against Oregon is impressive.
The Utes limited the Ducks to just 221 yards of total offense, Oregon’s season low. Oregon’s second-worst offense performance also came against Utah, in November, when the Utes held the Ducks to 294 yards of total offense.
In games not against Utah this season, Oregon averaged 447 yards of offense per game. Utah cut that number in half in the biggest game of the season.
Utah’s game plan against Oregon was the same as two weeks ago — stop the run.
The Utes succeeded.
Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown was never able to run, which is a huge part of his game. Ducks running back Travis Dye did finish with 82 yards and a touchdown, but 26 of those yards — and the touchdown — came in the fourth quarter with the game all but sealed.
Dye had only 17 yards rushing in the first half.
As a whole, Utah allowed only 74 total yards of rushing.
As a result of Utah stifling the Ducks’ rushing game and the 23-0 deficit at halftime, Brown had to try and beat Utah through the air.
It didn’t go well.
Brown was 13 for 24 for 147 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, including a head-scratching one with eight seconds left in the first half where he drifted to the sideline, jumped and threw it right to Malone Mataele.
Utah got a field goal off of that as time expired.
Brown’s quarterback rating, according to ESPN, was 7.7 out of 100. He was sacked four times, never got into a rhythm, and was rattled nearly all of the game.
Linebacker Devin Lloyd was deservedly named the MVP of the championship game. He was rewarded for returning to Utah this season with his best game as a Ute on the biggest stage.
Lloyd picked off Brown and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown that put Utah up 14-0 in the first quarter, and he also had seven tackles.
Lloyd will likely be the first linebacker off the board in the 2022 NFL draft, and he has certainly proven why this season.
Safety Cole Bishop had eight tackles, a sack and a pass breakup, Van Fillinger had seven tackles, 0.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss and Clark Phillips broke up two passes.
Utah’s kicking and punting units had their best game of the season.
Kicker Jadon Redding nailed a 50-yard field goal to end the first half, which gave Utah a 23-0 lead.
It was the longest field goal of his career.
Both punts by Michael Williams were over 50 yards, and both landed inside the 20-yard line.
Covey had a nice kick return of 39 yards.
The only mishap on special teams came on the extra point attempt after Rising’s pass to Kincaid to make the score 20-0.
Williams, the holder, couldn’t handle a high snap from JT Greer and had to tuck it and try to throw it.