Santa Clara, Calif. • Utah quarterback Jason Shelley will be remembered for winning his first three career starts in November and steering the Utes to a Pac-12 South title, but his turnover-free performance ended with three interceptions on three consecutive drives on the last day of the month.
The first, and by far most damaging, interception was not his fault — even though Washington’s Byron Murphy grabbed a deflected ball and sprinted 66 yards for the Pac-12 championship game’s only touchdown. The other two pickoffs, on Utah’s next two possessions, technically didn’t cost the Utes any points, but gave the ball back to the Huskies in Washington’s 10-3 victory Friday night at Levi’s Stadium.
Like what happened to since-injured starter Tyler Huntley against the Huskies in mid-September, too much was asked of Shelley as Utah couldn’t generate a running game. The redshirt freshman went 17 of 27 for 137 yards in a performance that led coach Kyle Whittingham to say he “struggled,” adding, “Maybe the inexperience caught up to him a little bit.”
Shelley could say only, “They're a good football team and they made plays.”
After leaning toward passing in a 21-7 loss to Washington in September, Ute offensive coordinator Troy Taylor tried for more balance this time: 27 passes, 25 runs. The problem with those numbers is the total, 52 plays. Armand Shyne gained only 37 yards on 11 carries.
The combination of the Ute offense's inefficiency and Washington's converting 10 times on third or fourth down kept the ball in the Huskies' hands for nearly two-thirds of the game.
On a yards-per-play basis, Washington seniors Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin were not that much better than Shelley and Shyne, but they stayed on the field long enough to give themselves more opportunities. Browning completed 21 of 33 passes for 187 yards with one interception (also via a deflection) and Gaskins gained 71 yards on 23 carries.
“Nothing this year has been easy,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen.
Even so, the Huskies (10-3) will advance to the school’s first Rose Bowl appearance since 2000. Washington’s season has to be considered a mild disappointment, as the Pac-12 again will miss the College Football Playoff. The Huskies played in the 2016 semifinals as Pac-12 champions, losing to Alabama. In this year’s case, the Rose Bowl is a consolation prize, a reward the Utes can only envy.