SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – The Utah football team is heading into the Pac-12 Championship Game Friday night against Oregon not only with a chance at the Rose Bowl or the College Football Playoffs, but also with a chance a redemption.
“This is a chance to rewrite history for the U,” said safety Julian Blackmon.
Last year, an injury-riddled Utes team lost to Washington in the Pac-12 title game, 10-3. How much does that loss stick in Kyle Whittingham’s craw.
“Every loss sticks in my craw, whatever a craw is,” Whittingham said. “That was a tough one. We couldn’t really generate any offense.
“Heartbreak,”Blackmon said, describing the overall feeling from that game. “It kind of was more motivation as well to get back. Right after that game, I was like, I’m coming back because I want to win.”
“We’ve talked about it all off-season that we wanted to be back in this same situation and we wanted to do even bigger things,” said linebacker Francis Bernard. “So, being back in this situation hasn’t been a surprise to us.”
Just having Pac-12 Championship Game experience could pay off for the Utes.
“I noticed the whole team is not as tense as last year leading up to the game,” said defensive end Bradlee Anae. “Everybody is loose, everybody is flying around. You can tell it’s a bunch of veteran guys who have been there and done that.”
As good as Washington was last year, Oregon may be even better, led by an NFL-caliber quarterback in Justin Herbert.
“It’s the best team we’ve played this year,” Blackmon said. “They’re the most explosive team we’ve played, and we’ve got to know that these guys are the type of team that on any given play, they can blow up and have big plays.”
The biggest key may be in the trenches, where Oregon’s huge offensive line will go against one of the best defensive lines in the nation.
“They’re really good on the offensive line,” Whittingham said. “That should be the intriguing matchup of this game and the battle that’s going to pivotal in who wins the game is their offensive line versus our defensive line.”
“We just feel that them as a defense overall, they’re the most talented defense we have faced,” said Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.
The Utes aren’t just about their defense. This team is a well-balanced machine, on an 8-game winning streak.
“I’ve got to believe this is the most talented team we’ve had here, at least since I’ve been here,” Whittingham said. “That’s a pretty bold statement.”
Utah and Oregon will play for the Pac-12 Championship Friday night at 6:00 p.m. on ABC4.