LOS ANGELES — What stands out most for Utah running back Micah Bernard about last year’s Rose Bowl experience isn’t scoring a touchdown in the first quarter, or playing a new position, cornerback, on the defensive side of the ball in a 48-45 setback against Ohio State.

“I felt like I was so close to blocking it. Yet so far. That was the last play of the game, so that’s what I remember the most about it.” — Micah Bernard

No, what stands out most was the penultimate play of the classic contest, when Noah Ruggles booted a 19-yard game-winning field goal with nine seconds remaining. 

The versatile Bernard was lined up on special teams on that play, tasked with trying to block that kick — and he was almost successful. 

“I felt like I was so close to blocking it. Yet so far,” Bernard recalled Friday. “That was the last play of the game, so that’s what I remember the most about it. That’s what fuels me so much because I did have a chance to block that. So close yet so far. That was the driving point to this game. Don’t make it close. Get it over with.”

Bernard and the No. 8 Utes have another chance to emerge victorious in the Rose Bowl Monday (3 p.m. MST, ESPN) against No. 11 Penn State. 

“Somebody just showed me a picture of that blocked field goal attempt,” Bernard added. “You can see the ball just a couple of inches in front of my hand. It stung even more. I do hope that we get a chance to avenge that.”

John McCoy, Associated Press
Ohio State kicker Noah Ruggles kicks Rose Bowl-winning field goal against Utah on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, in Pasadena, Calif. The play still stings for Bernard, who was oh-so-close to blocking it. | John McCoy, Associated Press

A year ago, Utah’s defensive secondary was decimated by injuries and coaches decided to play Bernard at cornerback, a position he hadn’t played since high school. 

“I watched my fellow offensive guys practice every single day and not being with them and learning the whole defense in two weeks,” he said. “It was much harder than I thought. This experience so far has been easier because I just have to play one position and I know the position so well. I know the offense so well.”

Not only was Bernard thrust into action on defense for the first time as a Ute, but he was facing star wide receivers like Marvin Harrison Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback C.J. Stroud, who threw for 573 yards and six touchdowns.

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“I feel like if I had a second game at DB, it would be so much different,” he said. “But I’m not going to fault the way I played because I think I played exceptionally well just for being my first game starting a college game against a great team with great receivers and a great quarterback. I tried to keep everything in front of me in that game and I did. They kept everything short. I can’t be mad with my performance.”

This time, Bernard wants to avoid multitasking. He’s hoping to make a big impact at his normal position at running back.

And Bernard is hoping the result doesn’t come down to having to block a field goal in the waning seconds. 

Rose Bowl on the air

No. 8 Utah (10-3)
vs. No. 11 Penn State (10-2)
Jan. 2, 3 p.m. MST
Rose Bowl
Pasadena, California
Radio: ESPN 700

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