CJ Verdell ran 18 times for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70-yard score, and No. 13 Oregon dashed No. 5 Utah's College Football Playoff hopes by winning the Pac-12 Conference championship game 37-15 on Friday in Santa Clara, Calif.
Oregon (11-2) claimed its first league championship since 2014 and punched its ticket to the Rose Bowl, outmuscling Utah (11-2) in a way the Utes did not experience in the regular season. Verdell gained 14 yards more on that one score than the Utah defense was allowing per game entering the night.
The result improves the chances that the winner of the Big 12 title game on Saturday, either No. 6 Oklahoma (11-1) or No. 7 Baylor (11-1) can sneak into the national semifinals.
The Ducks set the tone with a fourth-down stop at their own 33-yard line on Utah's opening possession. They followed it up with a nine-play drive that Verdell capped with his first score, from 3 yards out.
The Oregon defense stiffened its side of the field five times in the first half. One Utes drive ended when safety Brady Breeze made the right read on deep coverage and intercepted a pass that would have otherwise gone for a touchdown.
Breeze also made a fourth-down tackle to end a Utah drive. Both plays came after booth review overturned a targeting call in the first quarter that would have disqualified him.
With the Ducks' defense shutting down Utah and racking up six sacks on the night, the Oregon offense capitalized on two scoring drives set up by long Justin Herbert passes. One was a touchdown of 45 yards to Johnny Johnson III on busted coverage, and a 50-yard pass to Juwan Johnson led to a field goal.
Oregon's first-half dominance carried over to special teams, as well, when Kayvon Thibodeaux broke through to block a punt.
Utah scored its first-ever Pac-12 Championship touchdown on its first drive of the second half -- a moment more than six quarters in the making after notching just a field goal last year against Washington -- on a 24-yard pass from Tyler Huntley to Zack Moss.
Huntley passed for 193 yards and two scores with two interceptions. Moss rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries and had 57 receiving yards on four catches.
Utah's third unsuccessful fourth-down conversion attempt of the night on the next possession led to the third of three Camden Lewis field goals. But the Utes responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive culminating on Huntley's 25-yard touchdown pass to Samson Nacua.
Nacua caught the ensuing two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game before Verdell's 70-yard run increased the lead to 30--15.
The Utes' final attempt to cut into the deficit ended when Troy Dye intercepted Huntley, leading to the third Verdell touchdown, from 31 yards out.
Herbert passed for 193 yards and a touchdown.
--Field Level Media