It started so well for Utah.

Some of the 53,586 in attendance at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday for the 13th-ranked Utah Utes’ showdown against the eighth-ranked Oregon Ducks had been on campus since 6:30 a.m. or earlier, when Utah fans filled up Presidents Circle for ESPN’s “College GameDay” broadcast in freezing temperatures.

The third-largest crowd in school history, which packed the stadium before kickoff, was raring to go from “GameDay” and in anticipation of the gigantic matchup.

After Utah won the opening coin toss and deferred, the crowd roared to life, shaking the press box, and forced a delay of game penalty on the very first play from scrimmage for Oregon.

But aside from a fumble wrestled away from Ducks running back Bucky Irving by Junior Tafuna on Oregon’s second drive, that first play was about the only time the RES crowd was able to cheer loudly all day.

Utah’s 35-6 loss to Oregon on Saturday afternoon isn’t on the level of the 47-7 loss to TCU in 2010 (undefeated Utah was threatening to bust the BCS again; “GameDay” was in town for that one, too) or the 37-15 loss to Oregon in the 2019 Pac-12 championship game (Utah was No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings and could have made the CFP with a win).

The stakes for those games were higher than they were Saturday. With key injuries to this year’s team — quarterback Cam Rising, tight end Brant Kuithe, linebacker Lander Barton, to name a few — a third-straight Pac-12 championship was a probably a long shot.

But it felt eerily similar to the aforementioned outcomes.

“It’s probably TCU like 15 years ago,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said of the last time Utah’s defense got outplayed like this at home. “Probably that, as I was thinking after the game, trying to recall an experience like that. That was probably it.”

Everything was still on the table entering Saturday. Even with the injuries, Utah was 6-1 overall, 3-1 in conference play. Win against the Ducks, and Utah would have victories over USC and Oregon and would have been in good position for another Pac-12 championship berth.

What followed that euphoric delay of game penalty was a letdown of massive proportions.

Utah was simply dominated by Oregon. More specifically, the Utes were:

  • Beaten handily along both lines — a rarity for the home team. Bryson Barnes was sacked two times, was pressured more than he has been in the last two outings, and the offensive line wasn’t able to get movement going in the run game.

Defensively, Oregon’s excellent offensive line stymied Utah’s usually-dominant defensive front. The Ducks kept quarterback Bo Nix clean all game — allowing zero sacks — and were able to generate movement in the run game.

“We very rarely get outphysicaled, but today we got outphysicaled on the line of scrimmage. If you had to see what was the biggest single problem in the entire game, that was it,” Whittingham said.

  • Outplayed at the quarterback position — Nix looked every bit a Heisman contender, throwing at a 77% completion clip for 248 yards and two touchdowns, while Barnes struggled, completing 52% of his passes for 136 yards and throwing two interceptions.

“Bo Nix, tremendous quarterback. I think he was 14 of 16 in the first half. I don’t know what he ended up, but he’s throwing the ball nearly 80% completion rate,” Whittingham said.

Utah did not score a touchdown for the first time since 2018, a 10-3 loss to Washington in the Pac-12 championship game.

  • Outgained on the ground — Bucky Irving was slippery and elusive. The Oregon running back didn’t have eye-popping numbers (83 yards and a score), but he converted some big first downs.

“(Oregon’s running backs) run hard, physical,” Whittingham said, attributing Utah’s lack of run game to not winning the line of scrimmage.

Oregon rushed for 142 yards compared to Utah’s 99, but those numbers don’t tell the full story. Of Utah’s 99 rushing yards, 71 came in the fourth quarter with the game practically decided. Utah struggled to run the ball, gaining just 28 yards on the ground through three quarters.

There would be no Sione Vaki magic on Saturday. It was clear that the Ducks had scouted Utah’s two-way player well, and he wasn’t going to catch Dan Lanning’s staff off guard like he did Cal’s and USC’s staffs — an assistant coach alerted Oregon’s players every time he was on the field on offense.

Vaki finished with five carries for 11 yards and no receptions.

  • Beaten by Oregon’s receivers — Troy Franklin had 99 yards and a touchdown, coming up with some massive grabs, and Tez Johnson added 51 yards on six catches. Devaughn Vele had his best game of the season for the Utes with seven catches for 80 yards, but when Utah couldn’t muster up a touchdown the entire game, it becomes a footnote.

“I just feel like they were doing a good job covering things and getting to the quarterback,” Barnes said.

  • Lost the turnover battle — Barnes threw two interceptions and Utah took the ball away from the Ducks once. Tafuna’s takeaway was huge, giving the Utes the ball deep in Oregon territory, but Utah only got a field goal out of it.

“Absolutely upset,” Barnes said. “Interceptions are never fun and so just like I said, come back Monday, learn from it.”

Combine it all together and you have all the ingredients for an embarrassment on a national stage as Utah’s 18-game win streak at home was snapped.

“The score wasn’t indicative. The game was a mismatch. It was worse than what the score indicated,” Whittingham said.

Utes’ big showdown with the Ducks turns out to be MUSS ado about nothing
3 takeaways from Utah’s huge loss to Oregon
Highlights, key plays and photos from Utah’s 35-6 loss to Oregon
Utah fans brave cold temperatures and show up en masse at ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’

All the air felt like it was sucked out of Rice-Eccles Stadium after Oregon’s first drive. The Ducks never faced a third down on the opening series in front of the raucous crowd as Nix surgically picked apart Utah’s defense with Oregon’s hurry-up offense. A 30-yard pass from Nix to Franklin and a 16-yard run from Irving were key on the drive.

On Oregon’s next drive, Tafuna had the takeaway, ripping the ball from Irving’s hands, but Utah’s drive stalled out. It looked like Barnes had Vele wide open in the end zone for the touchdown, but Barnes never saw him, and the drive ended in a field goal.

Then the Utes allowed two straight Oregon touchdown drives, and it was beginning to feel a little like that 2010 TCU game, especially when Barnes threw an interception on what looked to be a miscommunication with Vaki the led to one of the Oregon scores.

Oregon led 21-3 after less than 18 minutes of game time.

Utah’s defense settled in, forcing two Oregon punts, but the offense couldn’t capitalize, punting once and having the most promising drive of the day sputter out in the red zone for a field goal at the end of the half.

The Utes got the ball first in the second half and proceeded to go three-and-out on the first drive of the third quarter and throw an interception on the second.

After a great punt return by freshman running back Dijon Stanley put the ball at the 50-yard-line, Barnes tried to fit it into a tight window and Tysheem Johnson made an athletic play for his second interception of the game.

Meanwhile, Oregon scored on its first two drives of the second half. Traeshon Holden’s touchdown following Barnes’ pick put the Ducks up 35-6, practically ending the game in the mid-third quarter.

Oregon looks like a College Football Playoff team. The Ducks have one loss, a last-second missed field goal at Washington, but it looks like they may have the chance to avenge it in the Pac-12 championship game if they keep playing like this.

View Comments

Just like he’s been saying all week, Whittingham emphasized that Oregon is a complete football team.

How much of the 29-point drubbing was the result of Oregon playing like one of the best teams in the country, and how much can be attributed to Utah playing an absolutely awful game? It was a combination of both.

With Utah likely out of the Pac-12 championship race (though crazier things have happened, see last season for an example), we’ll see how the Utes respond next week against Arizona State.

“We got to regroup, pick ourselves up and then get back on track,” Whittingham said.

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham pauses during a timeout against Oregon in Salt Lake City, Oct. 28, 2023. Oregon won 35-6.
Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham pauses during a timeout against Oregon in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. Oregon won 35-6. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.