SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Utah’s run for the roses came to an abrupt end Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game. The 17th-ranked Utes ran into a wall — a big one that cost them an opportunity to play in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
The 10th-ranked Washington Huskies are moving on instead after a hard-fought 10-3 win over Utah, spoiling the Utes’ first trip to the conference title game.
“A tough loss for our guys,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They hung in there. They played their hearts out.”
However, in the end, it wasn’t enough. The Huskies held the Utes to 188 yards of total offense and kept their offense off the field for more than 38½ minutes.
“We just weren’t executing,” said quarterback Jason Shelley. “We just weren’t doing our part.”
Shelley completed 17 of 27 passes for 137 yards in the setback. He was intercepted three times. Jaylen Dixon was the top receiver with seven catches and Armand Shyne topped the Utes with 37 yards rushing.
Utah’s defense, meanwhile, spent a lot of time on the field — 38:32 minutes to be exact, not giving up a touchdown and holding Washington to 306 yards on 72 plays.
“There were things we could have done to get off the field more, get off the field quicker, I think we could have done more to help the offense get better field position,” said Utah linebacker Chase Hansen, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles. “It hurts. It hurts bad. But I think I’m proud of the way we fought. I think there’s one thing about this game, you can’t say everyone wasn’t fighting for it.”
Hansen credited Washington for being a “really good football team” with a great offense and defense.
It didn’t take long for both teams to establish themselves defensively. They played the first scoreless opening quarter in Pac-12 championship game history. The major highlight was Washington taking the opening possession 52 yards on 13 plays, taking 6:40 off the clock. The Huskies reached the Utah 23 and opted to go for it on fourth and 6. The Utes stopped the drive when cornerback Jaylon Johnson broke up a pass intended for Aaron Fuller.
Washington had 99 yards of total offense by the quarter’s end. Utah had just 24. The Huskies ran 22 plays, while the Utes had just seven snaps.
Utah broke up another promising Washington drive early in the second quarter. Defensive back Javelin Guidry intercepted a Jake Browning pass that was kicked into the air during scrum, giving the Utes the ball on their own 18-yard line with 14:12 remaining in the half.
The stop wasn’t followed by any offensive momentum. Utah wound up punting for the fourth consecutive time. Washington took the ensuing possession downfield and broke the ice with a 29-yard field goal by Peyton Henry. The kick with 3:08 left to play in the second quarter proved to be the only score in the half. At the time, the Huskies had a 162-31 advantage in total offense.
Washington wound up with a 101-yard edge at halftime. The Huskies also held significant margins in first downs (10-3), total plays (39-21) and time of possession (19:53-10:07). Utah was just 1 of 6 in third-down conversions.
When the second half started, though, the Utes converted twice on a 10-play drive that ended with a 53-yard field goal from Matt Gay. The senior tied the score with 11:17 to play in the third quarter.
The Huskies responded with a sustained march consisting of 14 plays and 52 yards. They took 6:59 off the clock and converted on fourth down along the way. A second attempt to do so resulted in a loss on downs, giving Utah the ball on its own 28-yard line.
Six plays later, Washington cornerback Byron Murphy intercepted a pass from Jason Shelley that bounced off the leg of receiver Siaosi Mariner. Murphy then returned the takeaway 66 yards for a touchdown. Henry added the PAT with 1:05 to go in the third quarter.
“I’m just glad he didn’t get caught,” said Washington coach Chris Petersen. “When I saw him come back, I’m like, please keep going.”
Shelley threw another pick 52 seconds later. Jordan Miller of the Huskies intercepted a pass intended for Solomon Enis on the Utah 6. Washington then took more than 10 minutes to run 17 plays. The drive eventually sputtered and Henry attempted a 38-yard field goal. However, the kick was blocked by Utah’s John Penisini with 5:10 to play. The Utes failed to capitalize, though. Murphy recorded his second interception of the game at the 4:27 mark on a throw intended for Demari Simpkins. The Huskies took over on the Utah 36. They eventually punted, giving the Utes another opportunity to pull even or take the lead. However, after moving into Washington territory, the drive ended with a loss on downs — finishing with an incompletion from Shelley to Mariner that ended with no call on what Whittingham believed was pass interference by the Huskies with 27 seconds left to play.
Whittingham got fired up about the no-call.
“Wouldn’t you be? Did you see the same thing I saw? I don’t know how I can say anything without getting fined, but I’m used to it,” he said.
The outcome left Utah with a 9-4 record. The Utes will learn their bowl destination on Sunday.
“This is a tough group,” Whittingham said. “We’ve had to move on from a lot of stuff this season, and we’ll continue to come back.”