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.