December 3, 2021; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) runs the ball in for a touchdown against the Oregon Ducks during the first half in the 2021 Pac-12 Championship Game at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

No. 17 Utah earns Pac-12 title with rout of No. 10 Oregon

No. 17 Utah dominated No. 10 Oregon for the second time in three weeks, advancing to the school’s first Rose Bowl with a 38-10 victory in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night in Las Vegas.

Devin Lloyd contributed a pick-six in the first half, Cameron Rising passed for 170 yards and ran for 61, and the Utes (10-3, 8-1 Pac-12) controlled the line of scrimmage, just as they did when they routed then-No. 3 Oregon 38-7 on Nov. 20.

The Ducks (10-3, 7-2) managed just 221 total yards Friday night, including 74 on the ground.

Utah ran for 191 yards and three short touchdowns, two from Tavion Thomas, giving him 20 rushing scores for the season.

Utah, which joined the Pac-12 for the 2011 season, previously won the South division in 2018 and 2019, but failed to win the league title game. Oregon had been 4-0 in championship games before Friday night.

The Ducks managed a 42-yard field goal after trailing 23-0 at halftime, but the Utes delivered knockout blows with back-to-back touchdown drives for a 38-3 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown never found any rhythm, completing 13 of 24 passes for 147 yards, with two interceptions.

Utah set the tone early. The Utes scored on the first possession of the game and went up 14-0 on Lloyd’s 34-yard interception return with 4:16 to go in the first quarter. Lloyd stepped in front of a receiver on a pass over the middle and ran untouched into the end zone.

Oregon’s defense tried to turn momentum, twice intercepting Rising in Ducks’ territory in the second quarter. But the Ducks couldn’t take advantage, including missing a 44-yard field goal.

Utah pounced again at the end of the half, converting a third-and-14 at the Oregon 40 before Rising found Dalton Kincaid in the end zone for an 11-yard score with 27 seconds left in the half. The PAT failed, but the Utes weren’t done.

A huge mistake by Brown — forcing a throw as he was running out of bounds — resulted in an interception that led to Jadon Redding’s 50-yard field goal and a 23-0 lead as time expired.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Cameron Rising (7) during the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

No. 17 Utah bounced No. 10 Oregon once; now it’s for Pac-12 title

No. 10 Oregon will be out for revenge, and No. 17 Utah will be looking for history when the teams meet in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night in Las Vegas.

The Pac-12 South champion Utes (9-3, 8-1 Pac-12) wrecked the Ducks’ College Football Playoff hopes on Nov. 20 with a 38-7 rout in Salt Lake City. Utah has won its division in three of the past four seasons but is seeking its first victory in the conference title game and is trying to advance to the first Rose Bowl in school history.

Oregon (10-2, 7-2) bounced back from the loss to Utah by dispatching Oregon State 38-29 last weekend to clinch the North division. The Ducks have won the league title game in each of the past two seasons.

Although these foes carry the reputations of being arguably the two most physical teams in the Pac-12, it was all Utes in the first meeting. Utah outrushed Oregon 208-63 and led 28-0 at halftime after scoring two touchdowns in the final 27 seconds, including Britain Covey’s 78-yard punt return.

Utah controlled the ball for more than 35 minutes.

“They’re a big, physical, disciplined football team that plays hard,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said of Utah.

“They play with physicality and violence. They’re very assignment-conscious, technique- and fundamentally sound. They have explosive players on special teams, offense and defense … just a really complete football team.”

To wit: Utah is the only Pac-12 team that ranks in the top 30 nationally in scoring (35.2 points per game, tied for 21st) and points allowed (21.5, 29th).

This is a low-mistake outfit, exemplified by Utah quarterback Cameron Rising, who is completing 62.8 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and just three interceptions. But the Utes’ calling card is the running game, led by Tavion Thomas, who has 978 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.

He has 12 rushing scores in his past four games, including 21 carries for 94 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting against Oregon.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is signaling more of the same.

“It’s a little bit different, playing the same team twice in a 13-day period. But that’s how it goes,” he said. “No major overhauls. But you do tweak some things and make some subtle adjustments here and there.

“Not a lot has changed for either team … Really, it’s the execution and the energy is more critical than any minor schematic adjustments you might make.”

Over its last six games, Utah has averaged 218.2 rushing yards, while holding opponents to just 119.5 yards on the ground.

Oregon quarterback Anthony Brown rolls into the title game with momentum, earning Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week honors for his play against Oregon State. He completed 23 of 28 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 83 yards and a score on 14 carries.

Travis Dye (1,036 yards, 14 TDs) sparks the ground game.

Middle linebacker Noah Sewell, the team’s leading tackler, is good to go for the title game, as is cornerback Mykael Wright, Cristobal said. Both players left last week’s game with injuries.

The Ducks are 4-0 in the Pac-12 championship game, including last year’s victory over USC.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes quarterback Cameron Rising (7) tries for the first down against Colorado Buffaloes linebacker Carson Wells (26) in the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Rising, Tavion Thomas lift No. 19 Utah past Colorado

Cameron Rising threw for three touchdowns to lead No. 19 Utah to a 28-13 victory over Colorado on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

Rising completed 14 of 23 passes for 179 yards, Tavion Thomas ran for 142 yards and a touchdown and T.J. Pledger added 103 yards on the ground for the Utes.

Utah (9-3, 8-1 Pac-12) earned its fifth straight victory of the season and its fifth consecutive win over the Buffaloes in their series. The Utes averaged 6.5 yards per play while racking up 445 total yards.

Brendon Lewis threw for 84 yards to lead Colorado (4-8, 3-6), which generated just 148 total yards against Utah’s imposing defense.

Ironically, Colorado made big plays on defense and special teams in the first quarter to seize lead.

The Buffaloes got on the board with a 33-yard field goal from Cole Becker. Mark Perry intercepted a pass from Rising on the Utes’ first drive and returned it 40 yards to the Utah 15 to set up Becker’s kick.

Utah tried to answer with a 37-yard field goal from Jadon Redding but his attempt was partially blocked and the ball sailed wide left, keeping the score at 3-0.

The Utes came alive on offense in the second quarter. Rising completed his first four pass attempts in the quarter. Two were touchdown passes — a 19-yard strike to Brant Kuithe and a 28-yard dart to Dalton Kincaid — that put Utah ahead 14-3.

Becker made it a one-score game when he hit a career-long, 56-yard field goal to trim Utah’s lead to 14-6 going into halftime.

Colorado cut the deficit to 14-13 after Nikko Reed returned a kickoff 100 yards to open the second half. That’s as close as the Buffaloes could come to overtaking the Utes.

Utah extended its lead back to eight behind a 12-yard run from Thomas on the next drive.

The Utes went up 28-13 midway through the third quarter when Rising flipped the ball to Britain Covey, who took the short pass in for a 13-yard touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Nov 20, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Britain Covey (18) is taken down at the one-yard line in the second quarter against the Oregon Ducks at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Utah aims to extend dominance over Colorado

Utah has clinched its third Pac-12 South title in four seasons. Now the Utes are focused on extending their dominance over Colorado.

The two Rocky Mountain rivals will play for the 68th time Friday when the Buffaloes visit Salt Lake City to face No. 19 Utah. The Utes seem well equipped to beat Colorado for a fifth consecutive season.

The Utes have been a juggernaut against the rest of the Pac-12 this season, leading the league in scoring offense (38.4 points), touchdowns (41), total offense (456.3 yards), passing efficiency (144.2) and rushing touchdowns (28) in conference games.

“We’re getting to the point in the season where I feel like we have such a great identity on offense,” Utah receiver Britain Covey said. “You trust it. You stay behind it and you roll with it.”

Utah (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12) has enjoyed considerable success against Colorado since the pair joined the Pac-12 in 2011, winning eight of the 10 meetings in the series. During its current four-game rivalry winning streak, Utah has beaten Colorado by an average margin of 22.8 points.

The all-time series, which dates back to 1903, is even at 32-32-3.

Stopping the Utes will be an even more formidable task than usual for the Buffaloes. Utah dismantled Oregon 38-7 last Saturday, crushing the Ducks’ College Football Playoff hopes.

The Utes held Oregon to 63 rushing yards and scored on six of eight drives. Utah dominated the first half and when Britain Covey returned a punt 78 yards for a touchdown on the last play before the intermission, the lead over the nation’s fourth-ranked team ballooned to 28-0.

The Ducks never had a chance to rally because the Utes effectively shut down Oregon’s offense at the line of scrimmage.

“Are we a finished product yet or where we need to be? No,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We’re still not quite as big and strong as we need to be. We have some freshman kids that next year, will be 10-15 pounds heavier and stronger. I think that’s really going to be a boost for us.”

Colorado (4-7, 3-5 Pac-12) has won two of its last three games as Buffaloes managed to grind out two of the games in the final minutes.

They forced four turnovers to squeak past the Washington Huskies despite being outgained 426-183 in total yards. Colorado converted just 2-of-13 first downs, but found a way to win.

“We’re not getting off the field on defense and we’re not staying on the field offensively,” Colorado coach Karl Dorrell said. “We have to be better in those two areas.”

The Buffaloes are last in the Pac-12 in total offense (267.4 yards) and rank 11th in scoring offense (19.3 points). Colorado has scored more than 20 points in a game just four times this season.

–Field Level Media

Nov 6, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Oregon Ducks running back Travis Dye (26) rushes against the Washington Huskies during the second quarter at Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

No. 3 Oregon, No. 23 Utah meet in clash of Pac-12’s best

Two of the Pac-12’s best go head-to-head Saturday night in Salt Lake City, with Utah a slight favorite to end Oregon’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff.

The Ducks retained their No. 3 spot in the CFP rankings Tuesday and are on a five-game winning streak. But the Utes, ranked No. 23 in the CFP poll, figure to be the best team Oregon has faced since the Ducks upset Ohio State in Columbus in September. Both teams lead their respective divisions — Oregon (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) tops the Pac-12 North by two games and Utah (7-3, 6-1) leads the Pac-12 South by one game over Arizona State.

Oregon can clinch the North title and a spot in the conference championship game with a win Saturday or an Oregon State loss. Utah can clinch the South with a win over the Ducks or an Arizona State loss.

That all means that the Ducks and Utes are on a collision course for a rematch against each other in the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas.

The two teams are near mirror images of each other. Utah averages 35.7 points per game on offense, Oregon 35.3. The Ducks allow 22.6 points per game on defense, the Utes 23.8.

Oregon’s 441 yards of offense per game is only three more than Utah’s average. In winning five of their last six games, the Utes have scored no fewer than 34 points in each of the six.

“They’re a really talented football team. They’ve recruited very well. They have a lot of staff continuity. They’ve done what they’ve done for a long time and worked together for a long time,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of the Utes. “They have a lot of guys who play with power. A lot of speed on that team, explosive players.”

For the Ducks, their offense starts with the run. The Ducks are tied for second in the nation with 31 rushing touchdowns, including 15 in the last four games. The leading rusher is Travis Dye, who needs 92 more rushing yards to reach 1,000 in a season for the first time in his career.

Oregon is fifth in the nation with a 51.56 percent third-down conversion rate, going 31-of-47 (65.9 percent) in the last four games, and the Ducks are averaging 297 rushing yards per game over the last three.

Utah has won 17 of its last 18 home games, and with a win, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham would become the all-time wins leader at the school with 142. Utah has scored 16 of its 27 rushing touchdowns in the last four games.

“We prepare the same exact way, meeting structure, practice structure, everything. That’s how you have to do it in the Pac-12 because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter who you play, you’re going to get beat if you’re not ready to go,” Whittingham told the Deseret News. “We approach it the same exact (way) every single week.”

In rivalry history, Oregon is 23-10 all-time against the Utes with wins in three of the last four meetings, including the 2019 Pac-12 championship game in which a Justin Herbert-led Ducks team rolled to a 37-15 win in Santa Clara, Calif.

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Corvallis, Oregon, USA; Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham looks onto the field during the first half against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Cameron Rising helps No. 24 Utah hold off Arizona

Cameron Rising threw for 294 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, and T.J. Pledger scored a late touchdown as No. 24 Utah held off Arizona 38-29 on Saturday in Pac-12 play at Tucson, Ariz.

Arizona (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12) scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to get within 31-29 before Utah (7-3, 6-1) answered with a 15-play, 75-yard drive, capped by Pledger’s 2-yard run with 2:10 left to make it a two-score game after the extra point.

Rising completed 19 of 30 passes, including two touchdowns. He opened the scoring with an 11-yard run nearly five minutes into the game.

Arizona, which ended a 20-game losing streak last week by beating Cal 10-3, closed within 31-23 with 11:31 to go on Tyler Loop’s 22-yard field goal attempt. After forcing a three-and-out, the Wildcats blocked a Utah punt, with Rhedi Short recovering and scoring on a 3-yard return. The two-point conversion run failed.

On the ensuing drive, Utah converted a fourth-and-1 at the Arizona 42-yard line en route to the game-sealing score.

Utah, which began the day with a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona State in the Pac-12 South, played without leading rusher Tavion Thomas, who had rushed for four touchdowns in each of the previous two games. He sat for what was described as a “precaution.”

Pledger started and carried 25 times for 119 yards and two touchdowns.

Arizona quarterback Will Plummer completed 18 of 32 throws for 219 yards and one touchdown. He ended up as the team’s leading rusher with 50 yards, most coming on a 43-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Utah took a 7-0 lead after the first possession of the game, but the Wildcats stormed back with back-to-back touchdown drives to take a 14-7 lead after the first quarter.

The Utes tied the game on the first play of the second quarter on a 15-yard rush by Pledger, and that’s how the score remained until Arizona’s Lucas Havrisik tied the school record with a 57-yard field goal with 1:24 to go before halftime.

That was enough time for Utah, which drove 75 yards in nine plays, capped by a 2-yard pass from Rising to Brant Kuithe with two seconds left for a 21-17 lead.

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes running back Tavion Thomas (9) celebrates his touchdown with quarterback Cameron Rising (7) during the fourth quarter against the UCLA Bruins at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Utah aims to clinch Pac-12 South on road vs. Arizona

Utah heads into this weekend with a chance to clinch the Pac-12 South if it can defeat host Arizona on Saturday afternoon in Tucson, Ariz.

The Utes (6-3, 5-1 Pac-12) have a one-game lead and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Arizona State. The race will be over if the Sun Devils lose at Washington and Utah takes care of business against the Wildcats (1-8, 1-5), who unburdened themselves of a 20-game losing streak by eking past Cal 10-3 on Saturday.

Utah is surging after a 1-2 start, thoroughly dominating Stanford in its last game, winning 52-7 while rushing for 441 yards. The Utes had three 100-yard rushers for the first time in program history, led by Tavion Thomas, who has rushed for four touchdowns in each of the past two games.

Thomas rushed just 21 times in the first four games but now leads a powerful rushing attack with 122 carries for 742 yards and 14 touchdowns.

“He’s got size, he’s got speed, he’s got quickness and pretty much everything you are looking for in a running back,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham.

“Early on, the ball security wasn’t where it needed to be and by no means did we ever consider giving up on him. We knew that we needed to continue bringing him along and get him to the point where everybody felt confidence in him carrying the football and that he was going to protect it.”

While the Utes will try to control the game on the ground — they rank 16th nationally at 219.0 yards per game — quarterback Cameron Rising also has been a steady force, avoiding the big mistake. He has completed 129 of 203 passes for 1,458 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.

Arizona is feeling good entering its home finale after beating a Cal team depleted by COVID-19 safety protocols.

“I told our team, ‘So what; now what?” coach Jedd Fisch said. “It’s over at this point. We have signs all over our building — so what now?”

Will Plummer, the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster, left the Cal game with shoulder and hand injuries, but he kept returning and led a late touchdown drive for the winning points. He is expected to play against Utah, although wide receiver Jamarye Joiner and running back Michael Wiley figure to continue to take direct snaps to mix things up.

Utah has won the past three meetings dating to 2016. The teams did not play last season.

Whittingham is 140-69 in 18 years at Utah, needing one more victory to tie Ike Armstrong for the most wins in school history. Armstrong was 141-55-15 in 25 seasons (1925 to 1949).

–Field Level Media

Oct 30, 2021; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  UCLA Bruins wide receiver Kyle Philips (2) is tackled by Utah Utes safety Brandon McKinney (28) during the first quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports

Tavion Thomas (4 TDs), Utah run roughshod over UCLA

Tavion Thomas rushed for 160 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead Utah past UCLA 44-24 on Saturday in Salt Lake City.

On a night that Utah retired the No. 22 in honor of Ty Jordan and Aaron Lowe, Thomas became the first Ute to rush for at least three touchdowns in one game since Jordan in his final game last December.

Jordan was killed in an accidental shooting one week later, and Lowe — who adopted the No. 22 in Jordan’s honor — died in a shooting on Sept. 26.

Utah (5-3, 4-1 Pac-12) started the emotional night with a nine-play, 75-yard drive capped on Thomas’ first score, a 10-yard run. The Utes led for the remainder after that opening possession, and Thomas’ touchdowns of eight and 10 yards in the second quarter pushed the lead to 28-10.

Quarterback Cam Rising went 17-of-27 passing for 179 yards and found tight end Dalton Kincaid for an eight-yard touchdown late in the first half.

After UCLA trimmed the deficit to 12 points on an Ethan Garbers pass to tight end Michael Ezeike, Rising capped an 11-play drive with a 12-yard touchdown run to push the lead back to three possessions.

The Bruins (5-4, 3-3) threatened again in the fourth quarter when Garbers threw a nine-yard touchdown to Greg Dulcich but could never cut the deficit to single digits. Utah capitalized on a Rising quick-kick of 43 yards that pinned UCLA at its own six-yard line.

Defensive tackle Hauati Pututau got to Garbers for a sack and safety. On the Utes’ ensuing possession after the free kick, Thomas went 24 yards for his final touchdown and an exclamation point on the win.

Rising and running back T.J. Pledger added 63 and 61 yards rushing. Utah finished with 290 rushing yards as a team.

Running back Zach Charbonnet led UCLA with 65 yards, 30 of which came on a touchdown run in the first half. Backfield mate Brittain Brown rushed for 45 yards on 10 carries and caught six passes for 53 yards.

Garbers went 27-of-44 passing for 265 yards and was picked off by linebacker Nephi Sewell.

Saturday’s win gives Utah breathing room heading into the final month of the Pac-12 South divisional race. Arizona State’s loss earlier in the day to Washington State leaves Utah atop the division in the loss column, and the Utes now boast head-to-head wins over nearest competitors Arizona State, USC and UCLA.

–Field Level Media

Oct 23, 2021; Pasadena, California, USA; UCLA Bruins quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson (1) throws the ball against the Oregon Ducks  in the first half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA, Utah battle for positioning in Pac-12 South

The Pac-12 South race has taken multiple turns in just a few weeks, and Saturday’s contest between UCLA and Utah in Salt Lake City could present another.

Utah (4-3, 3-1 Pac-12) gained the inside track with three straight wins to open league play, including double-digit routs of divisional opponents Southern California and Arizona State on Oct. 9 and Oct. 16, respectively.

However, the Utes sustained their first conference loss last week at Oregon State, 42-34, giving up a season-high point total. The result left Utah tied with Arizona State (5-2, 3-1) for the division lead.

Utah’s typically stout run defense allowed 6.3 yards per carry and 260 yards in total at Corvallis.

“We’re just not quite where we need to be up front yet,” Utes coach Kyle Whittingham said of the defensive line in his Monday press conference. “We’ve had flashes during the course of the year, but not quite enough consistency.”

The loss of linebacker Devin Lloyd to a targeting penalty in the second half was “obviously a blow,” Whittingham said, but not “key to the whole thing.”

Still, Oregon State scored two touchdowns after Lloyd’s ejection to take then extend the lead. Lloyd, who ranks second in the nation with 13 tackles for loss, will miss the first half of Saturday’s matchup with UCLA.

The Bruins (5-3, 3-2) come into Utah needing a win to keep their hopes of reaching the Pac-12 championship game realistically alive. UCLA trails both Utah and Arizona State by a game in the loss column but took a head-to-head loss to the Sun Devils on Oct. 2.

UCLA took its second Pac-12 loss of the season last week when a furious rally against Oregon fell short in a 34-31 defeat.

The Bruins trailed by 17 points early in the fourth quarter, but a Jordan Genmark Heath interception set up one touchdown drive just four minutes after another.

Jay Shaw picked off an Oregon pass to give UCLA possession with a chance to win or tie, but quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson sustained a shoulder injury on the next drive, an ailment that could sideline him Saturday.

Thompson-Robinson was dressed but did not throw in practice on Monday. That leaves Ethan Garbers as UCLA’s likely starter.

Garbers, a Washington transfer, went 2-of-5 for 22 yards and was intercepted on the Bruins’ final possession.

UCLA’s run game has been outstanding in wins, going for at least 204 yards in those five games. In the three losses, the Bruins have averaged 141.7 rushing yards per game, including the 110 they gained against Oregon.

Thompson-Robinson’s mobility has been an important weapon along with running backs Brittain Brown and Zach Charbonnet. The quarterback has six rushing touchdowns and is averaging almost 46 rushing yards per game.

The UCLA defense has been solid against the run, but Oregon was the second opponent to clear 5 yards per carry against the Bruins. The other was Arizona State.

Utah comes in averaging 5.3 yards per carry behind a primary three-man attack of running backs Tavion Thomas and Micah Bernard as well as quarterback Cameron Rising.

Loading up to focus on the run will not be an option, however, as Rising has dramatically improved Utah’s passing offense since taking over as the starting quarterback. He has thrown for at least 247 yards in each of the past three games.

“You can’t defend totally one thing, then not take advantage of another thing,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said at his Monday media availability. “(Oregon quarterback) Anthony Brown, we gave him too many shots and too many easy completions, and we’ve got to be able to do both (defend the run and the pass).”

–Field Level Media