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Why Utes run game could loom large in Pac-12 championship game

Utes lead the conference in time of possession, thanks in part to an effective rushing attack

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Utah Utes running back Ja’Quinden Jackson, wearing red, is tripped up by Arizona Wildcats safety Christian Young.

Utah running back Ja’Quinden Jackson gets tripped up by Arizona safety Christian Young at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022. Jackson may his number called often Friday when the Utes and Trojans meet in the Pac-12 title game in Las Vegas.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

This article was first published in the Ute Insiders newsletter. Sign up to receive the newsletter in your inbox each Wednesday night.

No matter the game, no matter the situation, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham always wants to run the football.

That’s the same plan Friday when the No. 11 Utes clash with No. 4 USC for the Pac-12 championship at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. It’s especially vital when playing an explosive offensive team like the Trojans and quarterback Caleb Williams, the Heisman Trophy favorite.

“We always try to establish the run. We’re No. 1 in the league in time of possession,” Whittingham said this week. “That’s our M.O. Nothing different from us in that regard. But there are teams that try to shorten the game and try to limit possessions. That’s something we do on a weekly basis.”

Last weekend, running back Tavion Thomas declared for the NFL draft. That leaves a lot of the responsibility on Micah Bernard, Ja’Quinden Jackson and Jaylon Glover.

In Utah’s 63-21 victory at Colorado last Saturday, Jackson rushed for a career-high 117 yards on 10 carries. He also ran for three touchdowns.

“He took a step forward, there’s no doubt about that. He had a really good showing. He went over 100 yards, protected the football and had really good ball security and we grade ball security. It’s not just putting the ball on the ground,” Whittingham said. “His ball security grade went way up. It’s where it needs to be.

“Micah Bernard showed some good things. He had a chance to run. … Jaylon Glover gave us some quality carries again as well. Yeah, JJ is really starting — and we’ve been saying this for a few weeks now — to settle in and be productive.”

The Utes will need Jackson and the other backs to be productive to beat USC and repeat as Pac-12 champs.

In case you missed it

Utah football received a big commitment over the weekend.

On Sunday afternoon, offensive tackle Caleb Lomu out of Highland High in Gilbert, Arizona, rated as the 20th-best offensive tackle prospect in the country in the class of 2023 by 247 Sports, announced his commitment to the Utes via Twitter.

Listed by 247 at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Lomu holds scholarship offers from all over the country and was also strongly considering Michigan and USC, among others (he took an official visit to Michigan late last month).

Numbers game

415: Yards Utah quarterback Cam Rising threw for in the first meeting with USC.

16: Catches made by Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid in the first meeting with USC, for 234 yards.

10: Total touchdowns responsible for by Rising (5) and USC’s Williams (5) in the first game between the two programs.

From the archives

Extra points

  • A detailed breakdown of why the 3-team Pac-12 championship game tiebreaker worked out in Utah’s favor (Deseret News)
  • ‘I don’t know what ‘backdoored’ means’: Kyle Whittingham defends Pac-12 title game appearance (Deseret News)
  • Utah ‘finished it the right way’ with victory over Colorado (Deseret News)
  • Utah football gets commitment from Fremont kicker Dax Iverson (Deseret News)
  • Running back Tavion Thomas announces his career at Utah is over. Here’s why (Deseret News)
  • Runnin’ Utes subdue St. Thomas shooters, roll to comfortable win with Pac-12 play looming (Deseret News)

Fanalyst

After the Oregon game, when Utah’s offense decided to take a day off, no Ute fan thought Utah would, or even could make the CCG.

It could have gone either way. But it was either Utah or Oregon, in the end. And it worked out that Utah made it.

Happy day! Nice when it works in your favor.

The Pac-12 was very good this year. And Caleb Williams will win the Heisman now.

Had Stroud beaten Michigan, he was the clear favorite. But now it is CW and it won’t be close.

— ArizonaUte

Will Cam Rising be like Cam Rising? If not, they lose. If so, they can win it. As we all know, he hasn’t been very good at the time of year when he needs to be at his best. An NFL prospect? Not the way he’s been playing. The D is certainly more up to the task than the first time around, but will Phillips take the field? If not, I don’t hold out much hope.

Speaking of USC, they’re pretty good, but I think Alabama would crush them, or Tennessee, or OSU, once again highlighting the problem with giving rankings any weight. That’s got to stop.

It is a quandary, isn’t it? It’s great for the Pac-12 (and thus for Utah) if USC wins the game, but great for Utah if they don’t. On the other hand, if USC goes on to the CF Playoff and gets crushed, which I think would happen, then pundits could once again say, See? The Pac-12 just doesn’t have it.

—gadiantonchief

Up next

Dec. 1 | 5 p.m. | Women’s basketball | vs. Mississippi Valley State | @Itta Bena, Mississippi | ESPN+ & Pac-12 Network

Dec. 1 | 6:30 p.m. | Men’s basketball | vs. Arizona | @Salt Lake City | Pac-12 Network

Dec. 2 | 6 p.m. | Football | vs. USC | @Las Vegas | Fox

Dec. 4 | 2 p.m. | Men’s basketball | at Washington State | @Pullman, Washington | ESPNU

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Utah fans storm the field as Utah defeats USC at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022. Utah won 43-42. Will Ute fans be storming the field at Allegiant Stadium after the Pac-12 championship game?

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News