Kaelin Clay dropped the football, short of the goal line. Britain Covey pretended to catch a punt, 20 yards away from the ball's destination. Darren Carrington II caught a winning touchdown pass, barely in bounds. Braxton Burmeister hardly passed at all, in a convincing victory.
Utah and Oregon will conclude a six-year segment of the Pac-12 football schedule Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium, before Oregon State replaces the Ducks on the Utes' 2019 calendar. One way or another, Utah quarterback Jason Shelley's first college start will add another chapter to an adventurous sequence of games that began in November 2013, when quarterback Adam Schulz replaced an injured Travis Wilson in Utah's 44-21 loss at Oregon.
In between, the matchups have been unpredictable, including Utah's 62-20 road victory in 2015 and Oregon's 30-28 upset the next year. “It's been crazy,” said Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley.
The variable of Shelley’s replacing an injured Tyler Huntley creates more mystery about Saturday’s meeting. The Utes and Ducks already fit into the developing theme of the Pac-12 season, among multiple teams that have emerged as favorites in their divisions, but haven’t maintained that level of play. Utah (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) temporarily took control of the South race with four wins in October, but opened November with a loss at Arizona State and fell out of the Top 25. Oregon (6-3, 3-3) rose to No. 12 in mid-October after beating Washington, then lost to Washington State and Arizona on the road.
Good luck guessing the outcome Saturday, when recent history suggests almost anything could happen. The Utes will wear specially painted, winged helmets in a tribute to the school’s “Swoop” mascot.
Until then, a look back:
The week of Utah’s visit to Oregon, doctors discovered an injury to an artery in Wilson’s brain. At the time, his football career was believed to have ended, although he played the next two seasons, finishing with the second-most quarterbacking wins (24) in Ute history. In any case, Schulz and the Utes were overwhelmed in Eugene, as Marcus Mariota passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
The No. 6 Ducks led only 17-14 in the third quarter, before De’Anthony Thomas' kickoff-return touchdown launched a run of 27 points.
The Utes have beaten USC twice with last-minute touchdown passes. Yet the most memorable play of their Pac-12 era might be Clay’s dropping the ball short of the goal line, already celebrating what would have been a 79-yard touchdown pass from Wilson, who had replaced injured starter Kendal Thompson. The even more unlikely part was Oregon linebacker Joe Walker’s returning the fumble 100 yards for a touchdown, making it 7-7.
The No. 4 Ducks were ahead only 30-27 early in the fourth quarter, but Mariota then led three TD drives on his way to the Heisman Trophy.
OREGON AT UTAH
When • Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
TV • Pac-12 Networks
Covey, then a freshman, recalls the Utes “really wanting to make a statement to the Pac-12, and we really did,” he said this week. “People from all over the country remember that game.”
The No. 18 Utes led No. 13 Oregon 20-13 late in the second quarter, then scored 42 straight points. Covey caught two TD passes, including one from running back Devontae Booker. Yet the signature play came when he acted like he was fielding a punt in the middle of the field, as the ball spiraled toward Boobie Hobbs near the sideline. Oregon's defenders tracked Covey; Hobbs returned the punt 69 yards to the end zone.
“Gotcha,” Covey told a Oregon tackler, who then shoved him, as Hobbs ran toward the end zone.
On Senior Day, the Utes were No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings and anticipating a showdown with Colorado for the Pac-12 South title. Oregon altered those plans, coming from 14-3 behind in the third quarter and scoring touchdowns on four consecutive drives. Troy Williams' 30-yard pass to Evan Moeai gave Utah a 28-24 lead with 2:18 remaining, but freshman quarterback Justin Herbert threw a 17-yard pass to Carrington in the corner of the end zone with two seconds left.
Carrington made the final reception of the season at Rice-Eccles Stadium and, after transferring to Utah, caught the first pass thrown in the venue in 2017.
Herbert, like Huntley this season, was sidelined by a broken collarbone. Burmeister passed for only 47 yards, but the Ducks ran for 347 yards in a 41-20 win. “That was a nightmare,” Ute coach Kyle Whittingham said this week.