EUGENE, Ore. (ABC4 Sports) – The Utes had their chances, but could not take advantage, and now Utah’s hopes of defending its Pac-12 Championship are hanging by a thread.
Bo Nix threw for 287 yards and one touchdown despite being hobbled by a leg injury, Oregon intercepted Utah quarterback Cam Rising three times, and the 12th-ranked Ducks knocked off the No. 10 ranked Utes 20-17 on Saturday night.
For Utah to make it back to the Pac-12 Championship Game in Las Vegas, they will need to beat Colorado next week, while Oregon must lose to Oregon State, Washington must beat Washington State, and UCLA has to defeat Cal. If any one of those four scenarios do not happen, the Utes hopes of repeating as champions are over.
“It was just two good football teams going at it,” said Utes head coach Kyle Whittinghamm. “And in the final analysis, they made a couple of more plays than we did.”
The Ducks (9-2, 7-1, No. 12 CFP) need only a win over rival Oregon State next Saturday to book their ticket to Las Vegas and a date with USC, which clinched a bid with a 48-45 win over UCLA Saturday night.
Nix was clearly limited after suffering an injury to his right ankle/foot late in last week’s loss to Washington that snapped Oregon’s 23-game home win streak. He threw a 4-yard TD pass to Troy Franklin in the first half and Bucky Irving added a 10-yard TD run as the Ducks built a 17-3 halftime lead.
Camden Lewis added field goals of 30 and 41 yards for the Ducks, the second of which came early in the fourth quarter and proved to be the winning points.
Nix finished 25 of 37 passing and his own interception late in the fourth quarter proved not to be costly for the Ducks. Nix’s first carry of the night came with less than 2 minutes remaining when he faked a pitch, dived for 2 yards and picked up the clinching first down for the Ducks.
Lanning said Nix was asked before that run if he capable of pulling off the play.
“The guy’s got heart. He cares about the game, cares about his team. I think it shows in the way he plays,” Lanning said.
Karene Reid returned a fumble 11 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter on a failed reverse by the Ducks and sparked the Utes. Jaylen Dixon added an 18-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep later in the third quarter, but the Utes (8-3, 6-2, No. 10 CFP) couldn’t overcome an off night from their quarterback.
Rising was 21 of 38 passing, set a career-high with the three interceptions and flubbed an easy throw on fourth down in the fourth quarter deep in Oregon territory. Two of the picks came off deflected passes, but the costliest was Rising’s late throw across the middle that Oregon’s Bennett Williams nabbed near midfield with 4:15 remaining, his second pick of the game.
Utah got the ball back, but Rising couldn’t connect with Solomon Enis on a fourth-and-6 throw from midfield in the closing minutes.
“It just wasn’t good enough,” said Rising. “We didn’t do what we needed to do to be successful, and kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I have to play better, personally, myself.”
“Cam didn’t seem to find much a of a rhythm like he usually does,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid had 11 catches for 99 yards and was targeted 17 times by Rising. No other Utah receiver had more than five catches and Rising’s worst throw of the game may have been the fourth-down pass he threw low intended for Kincaid at the Oregon 26 with 6:54 left.
That 11-play drive was one of three long possessions where the Utes came away empty. Utah had drives of 12 and 14 plays in the first half and failed to score.
Williams didn’t have an interception on the season but came up with two against Rising. Noah Sewell had Oregon’s other interception.
The Ducks were bullied last season in a pair of losses to the Utes getting outscored 76-17 in the two setbacks. Oregon’s defense limited the Utes to just 326 total yards and Utah RB Tavion Thomas was held to 55 yards on 19 carries. The Ducks gave up 522 yards in last week’s loss to Washington.
The Utes close out the regular season at Colorado next Saturday.