Oregon State learned at least one important lesson Saturday afternoon against No. 12 Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Quarterbacks Chance Nolan and Ben Gulbranson — and the Beavers — learned the hard way: Don’t throw Clark Phillips III’s way, because, chances are, he’ll make you pay.
Utah’s lockdown cornerback recorded three (III) interceptions — including a 38-yard pick-six in the first quarter — in a 42-16 victory over the Beavers at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
“He’s got exceptional quickness and speed, first of all. Not the biggest guy but he’s built well and he’s physical when he needs to be,” coach Kyle Whittingham said of Phillips.
“Speed and quickness are his big thing, along with film study. Nobody studies more film than Clark. That leads to big plays. The more film you study, the more big plays you’re going to make.”
Said Phillips, “Man, it was a lot of preparation. It goes on every single week. Shoot, this was the week that we were going to get three.”
For Phillips, a second-team All-Pac-12 performer last season, it gives him eight career interceptions and three career pick-sixes.
The three picks ties for the second-most interceptions in a game in program history. The last time it happened was in 2009, when Robert Johnson had three interceptions against Colorado State.
Phillips is the only active Pac-12 player with multiple career interception returns for touchdowns.
As a team, Utah had four interceptions — with a total of 127 return yards.
Phillips was happy to help stake the Utes to an early lead with two first-quarter picks. The pick-six put Utah up 14-7.
“We noticed formational tendencies. Coach (Morgan) Scalley put us in position to be able to capitalize on it,” Phillips said of that play.
“I just so happened to be the outside corner on that play. As soon as I saw the ball snapped and the quarterback looked. ‘This is the one. Hopefully, we score.’”
Later, at a critical time, Utah’s defensive secondary made another huge play.
The Utes led 28-16 late in the third quarter when the Beavers had first-and-goal at the Utah 8-yard line.
That’s when senior R.J. Hubert picked off Ben Gulbranson and raced 70 yards, setting up a 22-yard touchdown run by Jaylen Dixon and giving the Utes a commanding 35-16 lead.
Hubert finished a team-high 12 tackles.
“It’s very telling about the work we put in throughout the week,” Hubert said of the defense. “Clark did a great job of owning his role out on an island.
“The stats come in mine and Clark’s names, but we don’t hear enough about the guys up front that force those throws.”
Once again, OSU was driving when Phillips came up with his third interception of the game in the end zone, shutting down the Beavers again after another prolonged drive.
Whittingham said Phillips is “extremely valuable” to Utah’s defense.
“You saw him play some slot corner today. We made an adjustment and when we’d go to nickel, he moved inside and played in the slot, which is very demanding and something he hadn’t done since he’s been here,” he said.
“That gave us our best 11. For having never done that, he did a terrific job today in that role.”
Yes, the Beavers learned a painful lesson — don’t throw to Phillips’ side of the field. Or else.