Was that really Utah scoring a touchdown off a fake field goal in the second quarter? Could that be the Ute defense stuffing a Pac-10 opponent so soundly that their home fans were actually booing? Can the Utes really be 3-0 for the first time since 1985?
Believe it, that was the University of Utah football team that knocked off Oregon 34-16 Saturday afternoon at Autzen Stadium. Even though they may not have played a great game, the Utes proved something they couldn't in previous victories over an offense-less Utah State team and a clueless Idaho State team."This was our first true test," said Ute quarterback Mike McCoy, who completed 28 of 39 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns. "It's a huge victory for us to go 3-0."
Defensive tackle Luther Elliss, who had a big game with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery, added, "It's an important win to show we can compete with somebody who's supposed to be a good team."
No doubt, the Utes had their problems Saturday, with four turnovers, a bunch of penalties and virtually no running attack. But who's complaining when you win by 18 on the road against a Pac-10 opponent that was favored to win? Not Ute coach Ron McBride.
"You've got to be thrilled when you go against a Pac-10 team on the road in a game that's really important to them and come away with a win," said McBride.
Besides a 9-yard touchdown run by placekick holder Jason Jones on a fake field goal, the Utes got a 38-yard interception return by Kareem Leary and some clutch second-half passes by McCoy when the game was still up for grabs.
Early on, it looked like the Utes might cruise to victory. They took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards in 11 plays with freshman Juan Johnson diving the final two yards. Then on Oregon's first possession, the Utes held and forced a punt.
However, the first of four Ute turnovers set up an Oregon score when David Kozlowski fumbled the punt at the 18-yard line. Matt Belden's 28-yard field goal made it 7-3.
Then on Utah's next possession, McCoy was intercepted on a tipped pass by Jeff Sherman, who returned it 24 yards to the 18. Five plays later Dino Philyaw scored to put Oregon ahead 10-7, still in the first quarter.
Neither team threatened until late in the half, when the Utes moved from the 47 to the 9, following an interception by Kareem Leary. It looked like the Utes were going to tie the game with a chip-shot field goal by Dan Pulsipher, when Jones suddenly jumped up and darted up the middle, bouncing off tacklers for a touchdown (see sidebar on page D1).
There was only 2:25 left in the half when Jones made his shocking touchdown and a little over a minute later, the Utes shocked the Ducks again when Leary nabbed his second interception off Danny O'Neil and rambled 38 yards for a touchdown.
"I kind of read the play and broke on it," said Leary. "I got a good bead on it and tipped it up in the air. Once I got it, I knew I was going to get to the end zone."
The Oregon faithful (only 25,358 on a perfect afternoon) were gloomy during halftime, but they perked up when the Ducks took the second-half kickoff and moved 68 yards in seven plays with Philyaw going the final 16 yards. A two-point try failed and Utah led 21-16.
On the Utes' next three possessions they gained a grand total of five yards as the Oregon defense suddenly stiffened. But the Ducks couldn't convert as Belden twice missed on field goals, from 48 and 50 yards.
Two big plays near the end of the third quarter allowed the Utes to extend their lead. First McCoy hit Robert Hamilton out of the backfield for a 41-yard gain down to the Oregon 31. Then McCoy passed to Deron Claiborne in the left corner for a 25-yard touchdown.
Claiborne, who caught eight passes on the day for 92 yards, looked over his right shoulder, then turned at the last second to grab the ball over his left shoulder for the score.
Oregon never threatened the rest of the day and when the Ducks called a dive play up the middle at 3rd and 3 from their own 10 early in the fourth quarter, loud boos rang out from the remaining fans at Autzen Stadium.
Utah used up nearly five minutes on its final drive and McCoy hit Hamilton from six yards out for the final score.
McCoy's 28 completions went to nine different receivers with Curtis Marsh leading the way with nine catches for 82 yards. McCoy also nearly led his team in rushing with 28 yards, as Johnson and Hamilton managed only 33 and 32 yards, respectively.
Next up for the Utes is 2-1 Wyoming Saturday night at Rice Stadium. That will be the first of eight straight Western Athletic Conference games for Utah.
UTE NOTES: The game was not televised live, but it can be seen on replay Monday night on the Prime Sports Network . . . The Utes came out of the game with just one injury, a sprained right ankle by center Lance Scott. Dave Boghossian filled in for Scott, an all-WAC selection last year . . . Running back Sylvester Cooperwood didn't play because of a tender ankle . . . It was a hot day for football - 83 degrees, which wasn't quite as bad as a day earlier when Eugene experienced record 91-degree weather . . . Leary's pick for a touchdown marked the third straight game an Oregon opponent has returned an interception for a touchdown . . . Oregon, which fell to 1-2, plays Iowa at home next week before playing eight Pac-10 games.