Utah football dominates Oregon, clinches spot in Pac-12 championship game

Utes secure fourth Pac-12 South title and third outright in 11 seasons. Title game appearance will be their third in four seasons.

Britain Covey has told Kyle Whittingham in the past that when a team is trying to run out the clock to get to halftime, and the University of Utah has timeouts, call them so the Utes can get another chance at points.

Whittingham was on board Saturday night against Oregon, so when Ducks running back Travis Dye ran for seven yards on third-and-10 with 11 seconds left, Whittingham called timeout.

“We had 11 seconds left and a couple of guys came up to me and basically said, ‘You’re not down,’” Covey said. “I went back there, looked at the north end zone and thought, ‘Well, what’re we going to do?’”

What Covey did was put the third-ranked Ducks out of their misery.

Covey, arguably the Pac-12′s most-dangerous punt returner, fielded a Tom Snee punt cleanly at his own 22-yard line near the right sideline. He moved back to his left, found a wall along the left sideline, caught two blocks, broke an ankle tackle around the Oregon 40-yard line, and was gone, 78 yards as the second-quarter clock expired.

That stadium-shaking moment extended No. 23 Utah to a 28-0 lead as it registered a 38-7 destruction of Oregon in front of an announced crowd of 52,724 at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

The win secured at least a share of Utah’s fourth Pac-12 South title in its 11th season as a conference member. Utah clinched its third outright South crown later Saturday night after Arizona State lost at Oregon State, 24-10. The Utes (8-3, 7-1 Pac-12) will play in the Pac-12 championship game on Dec. 3 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Oregon losing eliminates it, not to mention the Pac-12, from College Football Playoff contention, while leaving the Pac-12 North up for grabs. The Ducks (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) can win the North with a win over the Beavers next week in Eugene.

“The Stanford game (on Nov. 5) was pretty complete, but this is right up there with that,” said Whittingham, who became Utah’s all-time winningest coach on Saturday night with career win No. 141. “Between those two games, those are probably the two most complete games we’ve played.”

The Covey punt-return touchdown only came after Utah played a thorough first half, complete with savvy play-calling, third-down conversions, and an exceptional defensive effort against a Ducks offense that could never establish the run.

The Utes entered the red zone three times in the first half, all of them ending in touchdowns. Two of those three touchdowns belonged to Tavion Thomas. His second score of the night, a 4-yard run with 27 seconds left in the first half to give Utah a 21-0 lead, was his 16th rushing touchdown of the season. That broke the program’s single-season record of 15, which was shared by Zack Moss and John White.

Thomas, who sat out last weekend’s win at Arizona due to injury, finished with 94 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. He now has 17 rushing touchdowns for the season with three games to go, including the Pac-12 championship game and the impending bowl game.

“Our offensive linemen, they were doing their job today,” said Thomas, whose 94 rushing yards were part of a 208-yard night on 50 carries for the Utes. “It was easy for me to see the holes, read, and I was just trusting my instincts tonight.”

Oregon, which came into Saturday 11th nationally at 227.4 rushing yards per game, managed 63 on 23 attempts, Travis Dye and promising true freshman Byron Cardwell combining for just 13 carries.