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The Oregon Ducks are PAC-12 Champions!

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A review of the PAC-12 Title Game

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA

OREGON 37 - UTAH 15

The #13 Oregon Ducks (11-2, 8-1) defeated the #5 Utah Utes (11-2, 8-1) in the PAC-12 Championship game by a score of 37 to 15. In year two under Mario Cristobal the Ducks are going to the Rose Bowl!

Few non-Duck fans had Oregon winning this game, but coach Mario Cristobal had his team focused and ready to face the second best team in the conference of champions. The #5 Utah Utes were one game away from earning their first playoff bid, but the Ducks could smell the roses and delivered the biggest win of the Cristobal era so far.

OREGON PASSING

Justin Herbert: 14/26 - 193 YDS - 1 TD

After Oregon forced a turnover on downs on the opening drive by stopping Zack Moss on 4th-and-1 at the Duck 33-yard line, Justin Herbert led his team on a touchdown drive on their opening possession thanks in large part to a handful of successful QB runs. Oregon’s first pass went to Johnny Johnson III for a one-yard loss, but after consecutive Herbert runs picked up good yardage, the quarterback targeted Jaylon Redd three times on the drive including a 12-yard reception that set up a 3-yard score by running back CJ Verdell.

Herbert passed twice on the next possession: on first down to Johnson III for a nine-yard gain, then a 50-yard pass to Juwan Johnson to place the Ducks on the Utah 2-yard line. Oregon had to settle for a field goal on the drive after a couple of short carries, a false start on Hunter Kampmoyer, and a toss to left tackle Penei Sewell all fell short of the end zone.

Oregon’s next offensive outing was far less successful, totaling -19 yards in three plays after an incompeltion to Johnson III, a rare false start penalty on Sewell (perhaps still amped up after his catch in the red zone), and a sack by Devin Lloyd that lost the Ducks 14 yards and had Justin Herbert grounding the ball intentionally. Another Oregon three-and-out followed when a false start, this time on Calvin Throckmorton, was made worse by a couple of well-defended passes deep in their own territory to end the opening quarter.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon put together two scoring drives in the second half thanks to some accurate passing by Herbert. Up 17-0 at his own 30, the hometown hero hit Bryan Addison for a five-yard gain, then Jaylon Redd for another fifteen after an offside call gave them a fresh set of downs, and finally a 45-yard touchdown pass to Johnson III who was made open when Herbert misdirected the safety with his eyes. Another long completion to Johnson III set up a 30-yard Camden Lewis field goal with 4:56 left in the half, though Cristobal was likely upset with their red zone performance as again two starting linemen (Shane Lemieux and Calvin Throckmorton) each committed costly false start penalties.

Cristobal and Arroyo chose to rely more heavily on the run in the second half resulting in Herbert throwing the ball a mere eight times in the final thirty minutes. The third quarter was won by Utah, who outscored the Ducks 15 to 3 and had Herbert missing all four of his passes during this stretch. Another offensive line blunder, this time in the form of an early snap that flew back 20 yards before Herbert fortunately jumped on it on the Oregon 1, doomed another drive, but thanks to the foot of freshman Lewis the quarter was not scoreless for the Ducks.

A couple huge touchdown runs by Verdell in the fourth quarter allowed Herbert to play it safe through the air, completing three of his final four passes and coasting to a 22-point win behind an incredibly effective run game and some spectacular defense. An offensive lineman disrupted the flow with a penalty once more before the game was through, but fortunately it was coach Cristobal himself when he was called for an unsportmanlike conduct by entering the field before the game was over in an effort to avoid a Gatorade bath.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

OREGON RECEIVING

Johnny Johnson III: 6 rec - 87 YDS - 45 long - 1 TD

Juwan Johnson: 2 rec - 52 YDS - 50 Long

Jaylon Redd: 3 rec - 35 YDS - 15 Long

Bryan Addison: 2 rec - 14 YDS - 9 Long

Hunter Kampmoyer: 1 rec - 5 YDS

For the third game in a row, Johnny Johnson III was the leading receiver for the Ducks and came up with a big touchdown reception. After taking a huge hit after a catch during Oregon’s first play, the receiver made an early impression on the next drive by catching a pass for nine-yards on first down. The rest of the opening quarter was unkind to the receiver, dropping three balls due to tight coverage and getting blown up on a screen, but before the half ended Johnson III recorded a 45-yard touchdown and a 33-yard reception in which he used the back of a Utah player to make the catch. Ultimately setting up a field goal for thw Ducks. Oregon’s leading receiver was quiet for the rest of the night, but Johnson III’s early involvement is a major reason why this game finished so lopsided as he forced the defense to keep him in mind every time he touched the field.

Juwan Johnson, on the other hand, had another quiet night, though his 50-yard reception in the first quarter set up the first of three field goals for Lewis. Jaylon Redd also played a limited role in the drubbing, finishing with just three receptions and 35 yards. Redd’s 12-yard gain in the first brought the Ducks to the Utah three-yard line when he stepped out of bounds, resulting in Verdell’s first score. He suffered a couple unfortunate drops in the end zone in the third quarter, but it was nice to see Redd on the field in fighting shape.

Bryan Addison caught two passes - one in the first quarter and the other for a nine-yard gain on first down in the fourth quarter. He also committed an offensive hold on the opening punt of the second half. Hunter Kampmoyer caught a five-yard pass on 4th-and-6 in the second quarter on the drive that ended with Oregon’s second field goal.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

OREGON RUSHING

CJ Verdell: 18 car - 208 YDS - 70 long - 3 TD

Cyrus Habibi-Likio: 9 car - 27 YDS - 10 Long

Justin Herbert: 7 car - 20 YDS - 13 Long

Travis Dye: 3 car - 13 YDS - 8 Long

Penei Sewell: 1 car - 1 YD

CJ Verdell surpassed the 1,000-yard season mark with authority by lighting up Utah’s vaunted defense. On Oregon’s biggest stage since the 2015 National Championship, the sophomore played one of the best games of his career - finishing with 208 YDS, 3 TDS, and averaging 11.6 yards per touch. His first carry of the game was a three-yard score on Oregon’s opening drive. He was stuffed on the Utah one-yard line before Kampmoyer’s false start made the Ducks settle for the early field goal, and his next carry fell just a few yards short of converting a very long 3rd down. In total he had seven carries of ten yards or more: including a 24-yard run that helped spark Oregon’s final field goal drive, a 70-yard touchdown run to make it a 15-point game with 7:09 in the fourth, and a 31-yard score with 2:33 left in the game to seal the win. He is currently at 1,171 yards this season with one very big game remaining.

Mario Cristobal and Marcus Arroyo made a large group of Duck fans very happy when they elected to use Justin Herbert as a real threat in the run game. He didn’t carry it often, just seven times for 34 yards when you ignore Devin Lloyd’s sack which produced a loss of 14 yards, but his two carries during Oregon’s opening drive gained a combined 22 yards and made Utah have to account for Herbert as a runner for the rest of the game which made a lot of things easier on offense. He nearly extended and slammed the ball down for what would have been an epic one-yard score, but defensive back Terrell Burgess was able to hold him inches short. In fact, he may well have ran too often, as he was still running late in the fourth quarter, though I doubt the Cristobal critics will remember this questionable decision because the following play was a 31-yard Verdell touchdown.

Cyrus Habibi-Likio received nine carries for 27 yards and Travis Dye three carries for 13 yards, but Verdell was by far the best back on the field in this game, Utah’s Zack Moss included. Oregon finished the day with 239 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns against what was the nation’s #1 rush defense.

The Utah Utes were one game away from entering the College Football Playoffs, but for a second consecutive year the PAC-12 Title game proved too much to handle.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

NOTABLE UTES

Tyler Huntley: 14 car - 2 YDS - 17/29 - 193 YDS - 2 INT - 2 TD

Zack Moss: 19 car - 113 YDS - 4 rec - 57 YDS - 1 TD

Samson Nacua: 2 rec - 39 YDS - 1 TD

Terrell Burgess: 12 tackles - 5 solo - 1 PD

Francis Bernard: 10 tackles - 6 solo

Devin Lloyd: 9 tackles - 5 solo - 1 TFL - 1 sack

Outside of a valiant third quarter in which the Utes outscored the Ducks 15 to 3 and cut the lead to eight points, Utah was thoroughly outplayed on both sides of the ball. Tyler Huntley was constantly under attack and was unable to pick up yards on the ground with this tenacious Duck defense. The generally accurate quarterback finished 17 of 29 and threw two interceptions in addition to his two touchdowns.

Zack Moss had another impressive game but wasn’t able to put the team on his back. Oregon swarmed to the running back every time he touched the ball, however, Moss was able to score as a receiver once he found open space thanks to Huntley’s awareness of the field. Samson Nacua also came up huge on a pair of plays: a 25-yard touchdown reception to cut the lead to nine and an impressive catch in the end zone for the proceeding two-point conversion.

Utah’s defense failed to stop Oregon’s big plays through the air and on the ground, even though this defense had built a reputation on being stingy. Terrell Burgess, Francis Bernard and Devin Lloyd committed the lion’s share of tackles, but the mighty Ute defense looked no better than Washington State’s against this Oregon offense that was firing on all cylinders. An unfortunate non-contact injury took Julian Blackmon out of the game in the second quarter, which certainly affected the game.

Utah’s third quarter comeback was a testament to the resilience of this team, but ultimately the talent of Oregon’s roster proved too much to overcome, specifically in the trenches. It appears the Ducks may have become the more physical team.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

OREGON DEFENSE

UTES PASSING: 17/29 - 193 YDS - 25 Long - 2 INT - 2 TD

UTES RUSHING: 35 CAR - 116 YDS - 42 Long

UTES 3RD DOWN: 4 of 14

TURNOVERS FORCED: Ducks 2 - Utes 0

Oregon and Utah may have tied on 3rd-down efficiency, each finishing 4-of-14, but the real story takes place on fourth down. The Utes went for it on fourth down on four different occasions, once every quarter, and failed to convert on all of them. Perhaps the most crushing of these turnover on downs took place on the game’s opening drive when the Utes traveled 42 yards in seven plays, but failed to convert when Brady Breeze erupted through the line and wrapped up Moss’ legs before the gang tackle took him down.

Then, after three punts and an interception by Breeze in the end zone, Utah elected to go for it again on 4th-and-short when they reached the Oregon 31, but again were stopped by a stout Duck defense spearheaded by Jordon Scott. Utah’s next drive was therir final one of the half and ended in another punt.

Utah scored their first points of the game off a 6-play, 53-yard drive that concluded with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Moss. The touchdown came after an Oregon three-and-out, and on Oregon’s next possession a bad snap resulted in another three-and-out, but the second-half comeback was delayed because the Duck defense held them in check with a Popo Aumavae sack on first down and some spectacular coverage by Thomas Graham Jr when Whittingham chose to go for it on fourth down.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Oregon allowed the Utes to make it a one-score game late in the third when Samson Nacua caught a spot-on back shoulder pass for a 25-yard score and then brought in the two-point conversion moments later. Things looked even more dire for the Ducks when their offense went three-and-out and gave the ball back to the Utes at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Oregon’s defense committed what could have been costly penalties when Kayvon Thibodeaux was called offside on 3rd-and-6 and Mykael Wright committed pass interference on 2nd-and-14, but a big sack by Kayvon Thibodeaux and Isaac Slade-Matautia eventually forced the Utes to punt.

Oregon finished the final quarter with two more touchdowns while Utah failed to add to their third quarter total. After Verdell’s touchdown carries gave the Ducks a 37-15 lead, Huntley was desperate for points and threw an ugly pick that even a club-handed Troy Dye was able to catch. Utah’s fourth and final turnover on downs came on their final drive when Troy Dye and La’Mar Winston Jr brought down Tyler Huntley on 4th-and-19.

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

ALL-GANG GREEN TEAM

  • Brady Breeze: 9 tackles - 6 solo - 1 PD - 1 INT
  • Troy Dye: 8 tackles - 3 solo - 1 TFL - .5 sack - 1 INT
  • Bryson Young: 8 tackles - 2 solo - 1.5 TFL - 1 sack
  • Kayvon Thibodeaux: 5 tackles - 4 solo - 2.5 TFL - 2.5 sacks
  • Austin Faoliu: 6 tackles - 1 solo - .5 TFL

Brady Breeze had by far the best game of his career on the biggest stage he’s played on. The Junior finished with a team-high nine tackles and came up with a key stop on fourth-and-one by corralling Moss’ legs to stop Utah’s opening drive as well as an end-zone interception when Huntley bombed it down the field to close out the first quarter. These two momentum-changing plays took place in the first quarter and are only examples of how important Breeze was to stopping both the deep-field threats and as a runstopper. He was nearly ejected for targeting Huntley in the first half, but the refs decided against it.

Troy Dye made sure that his final game as a Duck would be in the granddaddy of them all by turning in another impressive performance, which included a late-game interception with his clubbed hand. Fellow senior Bryson Young also finished out his PAC-12 career with a bang by recording eight tackles and a sack that helped end a Utah fourth-quarter drive when it was a one-score game.

Kayvon Thibodeaux has officially become a problem for the rest of the PAC-12. He finished the day with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a blocked punt which he nearly returned for a score and was a menace in the backfield. With another offseason of conditioning and practice, there’s no reason why he can’t be the conference leader in sacks next season.

How fitting is it that La’Mar Winston Jr and Troy Dye had a combined sack on their last plays against a PAC-12 opponent? Go Ducks!


NCAA Football: Pac-12 Conference Championship-Oregon vs Utah Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NEXT UP: WISCONSIN

Jan 1st, Wednesday, 2 PM, ESPN - Rose Bowl