8:00 PM EST, ABC – Line: Utah -6, Over/Under: 47.5
College Football Playoff implications is on hand as the No. 5 Utah Utes look to punch their ticket to the big dance tonight as they meet the No. 13 Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 Championship Game from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. Two weeks ago, it was Oregon (10-2, 8-1 in Pac-12) that was in the position of possibly advancing to the Playoff, ranked Sixth Overall in the Rankings, with their task laid out before them: win out, and the probability of selection was high. Indeed, the Ducks had won nine consecutive games following their narrow 21-27 defeat to No. Auburn in the Season Opener, a loss that only looks better given the Tigers’ recent form. All they had to do was take care of Arizona State and bitter rival Oregon State in successive weeks, hardly a murderer’s row of opposition with the Sun Devils and Beavers collectively owning a 10-12 record at that time. Needless to say, Mario Cristobal’s charges were heavily favored to walk into tonight’s affair with Utah unbeaten in league play, but ladies and gentlemen, there is a reason that these games are played on the field and not on paper. Oregon’s trip to Tempe will ultimately be viewed as the game that shattered their Playoff dreams, sealing their fate no matter the outcome of Pac-12 Title Game. Before a Primetime audience, the Ducks struck first, taking a 7-0 lead midway through the First Quarter, though they would struggle to get much of anything going until much later in the affair, with the hosts running off twenty-four unanswered points to take a commanding 24-7 lead midway through the final stanza. The visitors would rally back, cutting the deficit to three points with 5:24 remaining in the game, but would get no closer than that, with Arizona State quickly striking back courtesy of an 81-Yard Touchdown, and finally dropping the proverbial microphone on their opponent, intercepting Ducks’ Quarterback, Justin Herbert (67.5%, 3,140 YDS, 8.2 Y/A, 31 TD, 5 INT), on the final drive. Herbert, who at the beginning of the campaign was viewed by many in scouting circles as the top Quarterback valuable in the upcoming 2020 NFL Draft, authoring his poorest performance of the term, completing just 20-of-36 Passes for 304 Yards, with Two Touchdowns and Interceptions apiece, while the Defense, which had allowed the tenth-fewest points in the country (15.8), was gashed for a season-high 535 Total yards, including 408 against the Pass. In the end, this is a team that allowed a golden opportunity to slip through their figures, which with a place in the Conference Title Game already assured, made their Season Finale against Oregon State rather anticlimactic despite earning a 24-10 victory. For the second consecutive week, Herbert underwhelmed, completing 18-of-30 Attempts for a season-low 174 Yards and a Touchdown, though Oregon wouldn’t need much from their Senior Signal-Caller in the 123rd edition of the Civil War. The hosts attacked early, eventually building a 17-3 by Halftime, though the visitors would cut the lead to seven in the Fourth Quarter. However, Cristobal’s charges proceeded to keep pounding the football down the Beavers’ throat, with Tailback, Cyrus Habibi-Likio (76 CAR, 310 YDS, 4.1 Y/C, 10 TD), breaking off a 20-Yard Touchdown Run to effectively end the game. The home side rushed for 191 Yards on Thirty-Seven carries, with Tailbacks, C.J. Verdell (162 CAR, 963 YDS, 5.9 Y/C, 5 TD) and Travis Dye (102 CAR, 642 YDS, 6.3 Y/C), running for Fifty and Ninety-One Yards respectively. Though they have come just short of Playoff Selection, there is no doubt that Cristobal and his Coaching Staff will be selling the 2019 campaign as anything but a success for the program, and quite frankly, we’d have to agree with him. In just his second campaign as the Head Coach, he’s guided the Ducks to their first 10-Win Season since 2014, and their first trip to the Pac-12 Championship in five years, while also completing a perfect record at Autzen Stadium for the just the eighth time in school history. Furthermore, with two more games left (including a Bowl), there’s a chance that they’ll be able to win twelve games for the first time since reaching that mark in four out of five years from 2010 t0 2014. Frist things first though, they’ll have to defeat Utah, whom they met last season in a 25-32 loss in Salt Lake City. On that day in early November, the Ducks fell behind early, trailing 0-13 in the Second Quarter, and 7-19 at Halftime, but managed to rally back and cut the deficit to two points midway through the third frame, before eventually taking a brief 25-22 lead with just over eight minutes to play in the final stanza. However, the Utes struck back, scoring ten points in the final 6:48 to retake the lead and eventually claim the victory. Herbert shook off a slow start to complete 20-of-33 Passes for 288 Yards and Three Touchdowns against a staunch Utah Defense, though it would not be enough, as the home side racked up a whopping 506 Total yards, including 244 Rushing Yards on Forty-Six Carries.
Meanwhile, if you’ve been paying attention to all the chatter as to who will eventually occupy that fourth and final spot in the College Football Playoff, you’ll no doubt know that many of the pundits are very bullish on the chances of Utah (11-1, 8-1 in Pac-12) making into that Final Four. Given Alabama’s recent loss, and the potential for Georgia to suffer their second defeat of the term, there is a very strong case to be made that if the Utes do prove victorious in the tonight’s Pac-12 Championship Game, then they would be the last team in the Playoff. As far as one-loss teams go, this team’s CV is as good as any, with Kyle Whittingham’s charges having won eight consecutive games following their lone defeat of the year, a 23-30 affair at USC. However, while their detractors will argue that that particular outcome was a poor loss, mostly due to the Trojans inconsistencies this season, it needs to be taken in the proper context. Yes, the hosts went to battle with a Quarterback who was essentially occupying Third String, but Utah was with their most prominent offensive player, Senior Tailback, Zack Moss (200 CAR, 1,246 YDS, 6.2 Y/C, 15 TD), hobbled due to injury before ultimately exiting the contest altogether. Needless to say, anyone who has watched this team play in 2019 knows that running the football is a major component of their success, with Moss serving as the fulcrum of the attack, rushing for a career-high 1,246 Yards and Fifteen Touchdowns on a very healthy 6.2 Yards per Carry. The Pac-12’s leader in Rushing Yards (1,246), Rushing Touchdowns (15), Yards from Scrimmage (1,563), and Total Touchdowns (16), has become a far more well-rounded player in his final campaign in Salt Lake City, exhibiting improved skills as a Receiver out of the Backfield with Twenty-Two Receptions for 317 Yards and another score. Granted, the visitors still managed to rush for 247 Yards without him for the majority of the affair, but we’ll choose not to dwell on that any longer… Since that loss, the Offense is averaging 38.5 Points per Game on 458.5 Total Yards, with Moss averaging 128.0 Rushing Yards over that span, while logging the majority of his production in the Passing Game with another 44.3 Receiving Yards per Contest. When we last saw the Utes, they closed the Regular Season out in convincing fashion, pummeling Colorado in a 45-14 victory, in which they overcame a slow start and freezing temperatures. Though the Buffaloes struck first, taking a 7-0 lead just before the conclusion of the First Quarter, would finally explode, running off thirty-one unanswered points, which would be more than enough to seal their first 11-Win Season since 2008. As they have throughout the term, Whittingham’s troops dominated on the ground, rushing for 207 Yards and Three Touchdowns on Forty-One Carries, with the aforementioned Moss leading the way with Eighty-Eight Yards and a score on Twenty Carries, while versatile Sophomore Tight End, Brant Kuithe (25 REC, 501 YDS, 20.0 Y/R, 6 TD), added another Fifty-Nine Yards and a Touchdown on just Two Attempts. However, he would also factor into the Passing Game, hauling in Three Receptions for Sixty-Three Yards and another Two Touchdowns. Senior Quarterback, Tyler Huntley (75.5%, 2,773 YDS, 11.1 Y/A, 16 TD, 2 INT), was deadly efficient as the Buffaloes focused their efforts on slowing Moss down, completing 14-of-17 Attempts for 165 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns, while also carrying the football on ten occasions for Twenty-Seven Yards. With that said, the biggest takeaway from the win was how the Defense continued to manhandle the opposition, relegating Colorado to a scant 217 Total Yards on Sixteen First Downs, including a miniscule Sixty Rushing Yards despite Thirty-One Carries. Saturday’s performance marked the tenth time this season in which the Utes had limited their opponent to fewer than Seventy Yards Rushing, becoming the first team to do so since Michigan accomplished that feat back in 2006. Furthermore, the hosts totaled Five Sacks, with Senior Defensive End, Bradlee Anae (33 TKL, 13.5 TFL, 12.5 SK, 1 FF), tying the school record for Career Sacks with 29.5. Coming into the season, the major reason that so many people were high on Utah winning the Pac-12 was their Defense, which as expected has been one of the nastiest groups in the College Football; in 2019, Utah has allowed just 11.2 Points per Game (3rd Overall) on 241.8 Total Yards, including 185.3 Yards against the Pass and another 56.4 Yards versus the Run, with Twenty-One Takeaways. The Defensive Line is arguably the best in the country, with a monstrous foursome consisting of massive Defensive Tackles, Leki Fotu (20 TKL, 5.5 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PD) and John Penisini (35 TKL, 6.0 TFL, 2.0 SK, 2 FF, 1 PD), along with Defensive End, Mike Taufa (33 TKL, 6.5 TFL, 2.5 SK, 4 FR, 1 TD, 2 PD), and the aforementioned Anae, wrecking havoc in the trenches. The quartet has accounted for 31.5 Tackles for Loss, Seventeen Sacks, and Four Forced Fumbles. Their presence at the Line of Scrimmage allows for opportunities for big plays, which Sophomore Linebacker, Devin Lloyd (76 TKL, 8.0 TFL, 4.5 SK, 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 PD), and Senior Cornerback, Julian Blackmon (56 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 1.5 SK, 2 FF, 4 INT, 1 TD, 4 PD), have capitalized on.