When No. 3 Oregon and No. 23 Utah last met in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship Game, the Ducks won handily and wrecked the Utes' hopes of making the College Football Playoff. Utah got its revenge on Saturday night by clinching the Pac-12 South with a dominant 38-7 victory that likely dashed the Ducks' CFP aspirations. The Ducks' loss likely ensures that the Pac-12 will not have a representative in the CFP for the fifth straight season, with Washington's appearance at the close of the 2016 season being the last for the league.
Utah took a 28-0 lead into halftime by denying Oregon points on all three of its trips into Utes territory. It capped the half off in thrilling fashion with a 78-yard punt return from Britain Covey as time expired in the second quarter. An Oregon team that plays at a methodical pace scored on its opening series of the third quarter, but the Ducks couldn't sustain the momentum and suffered their second loss of the season -- with the previous defeat coming to Stanford.
Oregon finished with just 294 total yards, averaging only 2.7 yards per rush while converting on jus 6 of 14 third down attempts. Tavion Thomas ran for 94 yards and scored three touchdowns to lead the Utah offense, while quarterback Cam Rising completed 10 of 18 passes for 178 yards. Rising improved to 7-1 this season as the starter since taking over following the team's 1-2 start. His favorite target was tight end Brant Kuithe, who caught five passes for 118 yards.
With the win, the highest ranked victory at home for the Utes, coach Kyle Whittingham is now the program's all-time wins leader with 142 victories. He surpasses Ike Armstrong, who led the program from 1925 to 1949.
If Oregon beats Oregon State in the regular-season finale for both teams next week, the Ducks will get a rematch with Utah in the Pac-12 title game on Dec. 3. A berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game would present a meaningful shot at retribution for Oregon, and it would come with a Rose Bowl bid on the line.
Even if Oregon loses next week, it could still end up in the mix for the Pac-12 Championship Game depending on how various tiebreaker scenarios play out. So while a national championship appears to be off the table, a championship of some sort remains in play for this team. It will be the Utah's third league title game in the last four seasons, but the Utes are still looking for their first victory in a conference championship game.
Cincinnati fans started a "let's go Utah" chant during the fourth quarter of the Bearcats' 48-14 win over SMU, and the Utes obliged them. With the Ducks likely to plummet in the CFP Rankings as a result of Utah's authoritative win, Cincinnati could be in position to claim the No. 4 spot in the new batch of rankings to be released on Tuesday.
Everyone else in the top six of the CFP Rankings looked good on Saturday, and the Ducks looked really bad. In that way, this result helped cut through the mid of the playoff picture. Oregon is out and Cincinnati got the help it so desperately needed.
Britain Covey's breakout
Utah's 5-foot-8 slot receiver from the Class of 2015 has long been one of the Pac-12's best returners, but he may have had his finest moment on Saturday. His 78-yard punt return for a touchdown on the final play of the first half turned Utah's lead from a comfortable one into an advantage that proved altogether insurmountable for Oregon's plodding offensive attack. Covey also caught three passes for 36 yards.
Covey was an honorable mention All-Pac-12 returner as a freshman in 2015 before taking two seasons off for a church mission. He returned even better and earned first-team all-conference honors as a returner in 2018 before redshirting in 2019 while playing in four games. Covey again earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors as a returner last season.
Considering that 2020 did not count against his eligibility, Covey could technically play two more seasons. But he's already graduated, and he showed on Saturday that he might be ready to give the NFL a shot. There may be no better returner in college football.