One fumble before the goal line by Kaelin Clay gave Oregon the touchdown and momentum shift they needed in order to eventually beat Utah 51-27 and clinch the title in the Pac-12 North division, ensuring they’ll be in the conference championship game for the first time after missing out on it in the last couple of years.
Marcus Mariota put up huge numbers in what was the final difficult hurdle in their way of winning the division and going to the title game. He completed 17-of-29 passes for 239 yards and three touchdown passes and ran for a team-high 114 yards on 18 carries with one score as well. Mariota stayed in order to help Oregon try and play for the national title, something they managed to do in 2010, but he might end up winning a Heisman trophy as well.
After being involved in close games all year long, Utah end their hopes of somehow winning the South division on a blowout. It started close and they managed to make it again up until the fourth quarter, but when it came down to firepower vs firepower, they have no business gunning it out with the likes of Oregon. Utah also turned the ball over four times, including what might end up to be the most foolish and memorable turnover of the season.
After scoring a touchdown with less than five minutes gone by in the game, Utah seemed to go 14-0 after Travis Wilson found Kaelin Clay over the middle for an easy score. Only Clay, who already has four return touchdowns this season, celebrated early. The ball fell from his hands, or he dropped it on purpose, a yard before the goalline. The stadium celebrated, the team celebrated, but the officials didn’t single it as a touchdown.
Oregon players spotted the gift they were given, and it was linebacker Joe Walker who picked it up, returning the ball 100 yards for the touchdown. Who knows what kind of game we would have seen had the Utes taken a 14-0 early in the second quarter. Instead, Oregon went on to score 24 points in the second quarter and finish strong as well with the final 21 points of the game after Utah managed to make it a 3-point game (27-30) early in the fourth.
As always, besides Mariota, the Ducks had plenty of play makers to help out: Royce Freeman ran for 99 yards, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and scoring a touchdown. Pharaoh Brown (maybe out for the season) caught three passes for 40 yards, one of them a touchdown pass. Dwayne Stanford had only two receptions for 37 yards, but both of the passes he caught were for scores. The speed and the never ending intensity of their attack was something Utah couldn’t cope with.
So what’s left for Oregon? The division is won, but they can’t afford to slip because of the college football playoff. If a spot in the final four was guaranteed to a conference champion, they might have had a chance to rest some players. But they need to go through Colorado at home (should be easy) and then at Oregon State in the Civil War before going to the conference championship against what right now looks like Arizona State. Only three games to go before finally being back in a position to show the nation they can compete with the best, as their annual mess up didn’t hold them back this time.