Misfiring Utes haunted by missed opportunities against Ducks

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kyle Whittingham leads his team onto the field as Utah faces Oregon in the Pac-12 football championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday Dec. 6, 2019.

Santa Clara, Calif. • The Utah offense was little more than a tease when it mattered most in the Pac-12 championship game on Friday night.

Five times in the first half the Utes drove into Oregon territory and crossed the 40-yard line.

And five times, they were rebuffed before reaching the 30.

The red zone was never in play because the Utes couldn’t escape the dead zone that was the landscape between the 30 and the 40.

By halftime, Utah had failed to score a touchdown at Levi’s Stadium for six consecutive quarters over the past two years, and this time most of the drama had drained out of the proceedings.

A year after losing 10-3 to Washington in the Pac-12 title game, the Utes found themselves down 20-0 and there was no coming back from it in a 37-15 defeat.

“We didn’t have an ideal start by any means,” coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It seemed like everything that could go wrong did go wrong in that first quarter, the first half for that matter.”

The Utes fought back within 23-15 in the third quarter but by whiffing on those first-half opportunities, the Utes left themselves a huge mountain to climb.

“We weren’t ready to play. They jumped out on us and we just didn’t battle back," quarterback Tyler Huntley said. “Disappointing because, no offense to Oregon, but if we would have come out and did what we [do], we could have been in a better position.”

Here are the five possessions that doomed the Utes:

• Utah got the ball first and had a third-and-1 at the Oregon 33 after Tyler Huntley completed three straight passes. But Zack Moss, the Pac-12 rushing leader, was stopped for no gain on consecutive plays and the Ducks took over at the 33.

• Down 10-0, Utah used an 18-yard scramble by Huntley plus a 10-yard defensive holding penalty to cross midfield. Three runs by Moss set up a fourth-and-1 at the 38, but a false start penalty pushed the ball back to the 43 and forced a punt, which Oregon blocked.

• Moss finally got loose on the Utes’ next possession, eluding trouble and dashing 42 yards to the Oregon 38. But Huntley threw into double coverage on a deep ball to Demari Simpkins and was intercepted by Brady Breeze in the end zone.

• Midway through the second quarter and trailing 17-0, the Utes got a 38-yard kickoff return from Derrick Vickers and a 20-yard completion to tight end Brant Kuithe for a first down at the Oregon 39. Once again, nothing came of the opportunity, with Huntley tackled for no gain on a fourth-and-2 scramble from the 31.

• The score was 20-0 by the time Huntley connected with wideout Samson Nacua for a 14-yard gain to the OU 38. Moss was tackled for a 5-yard loss on first down and Huntley threw incomplete on a second-down play during which both he and receiver Jaylen Dixon took hits. Dixon left the field and Huntley stayed, but he threw incomplete on third down and Utah punted.