Utah’s biggest November victory of the program’s Pac-12 era ended with another missed opportunity.
The Utes could have punctuated Saturday's 32-25 win over at Oregon at Rice-Eccles Stadium with a last-minute touchdown, but they settled for Matt Gay's school-record sixth field goal of the game.
All that final failure did was give redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley some comedic material for his first collegiate appearance in a postgame news conference. Asked about the offense's shortcomings, Shelley said, “We just wanted to get Matt Gay some field goals.”
The Utes succeeded with that record-setting assistance. They also stayed in the thick of the Pac-12 South race, thanks to the 262-yard passing performance of Shelley and the 174-yard running effort of Armand Shyne, plus a defense that delivered a fourth-down stop with Oregon driving, down 29-25 in the last five minutes.
Utah (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) responded to an emotionally taxing week, having lost quarterback Tyler Huntley to a broken collarbone last weekend at Arizona State and running back Zack Moss to a knee injury that occurred away from the practice field, as his knee “locked up on him,” coach Kyle Whittingham clarified.
“Guys handled it great,” Whittingham said.
“I'm incredibly proud of a lot of guys,” said linebacker Chase Hansen, a senior co-captain. “It kind of goes to show the character of this team. We've got guys that don't quit, guys that get knocked down and get back up.”
• Utah remains in the Pac-12 South race by rallying for a 32-25 win over Oregon at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
• Fill-in starters Jason Shelley and Armand Shyne help the Utes produce 494 total yards, including 302 on the first half.
• To win the South title, Utah needs a win at Colorado next Saturday and loss by Arizona State at either Oregon or Arizona.
Just to frame what Shelley labeled “an exciting debut for me,” Utah's special-teams breakdown enabled the Ducks to convert a blocked punt into a short touchdown pass and a 2-point conversion for a 25-22 lead with 8:15 remaining.
Continuing the theme of the week, the Utes responded wonderfully to their first deficit of the game by driving to a go-ahead touchdown. The context of that possession is that after producing 302 total yards in the first half in taking a 19-7 lead, the offense had scored only three second-half points, with three sequences of three plays and out. That fade was fitting into a theme of Utah's three losses this season.
This ending was different. Shelley found Texas high school teammate Jaylen Dixon for 36 yards and hit tight end Brant Kuithe for 11 yards. Thanks partly to a pass-interference penalty in the end zone, the Utes finished the drive with Shelley's second rushing touchdown, a 2-yarder with 6:48 to play.
Oregon moved quickly across midfield, but cornerback Jaylon Johnson broke up a fourth-and-5 pass attempt. With Shyne carrying the ball six straight times, the Utes nearly ate up the remaining 4:39. Gay's sixth field goal came with 15 seconds left, and Utah had secured a win that may become even more meaningful as November develops.
In October, Whittingham once claimed to be so focused that he didn't know Utah's next opponent. But he's well aware of what's ahead for Arizona State, the only South team that's assured of claiming a berth in the Pac-12 title game by winning its remaining games. The Sun Devils (4-3) will visit Oregon and Arizona; an ASU loss in either game, coupled with a Utah victory next Saturday at Colorado, would give the Utes the division title.
And in 60 minutes Saturday, framed by everything that occurred in the previous seven days, the Utes may have altered the perception that only bad things happen to them in November. By beating Colorado, they at least would play their way into the upper tier of the Pac-12's affiliated bowls. If they also get some help against ASU, they could become the last South member to appear in the conference championship game.
Having rallied to beat the Ducks, Utah now is cheering for Oregon. That’s the latest twist in a crazy season.