Utah Football Loses Heartbreaker in Record-Setting Rose Bowl

%28Photo+by+Xiangyao+Axe+Tang+%7C+The+Daily+Utah+Chronicle%29

Xiangyao Tang

(Photo by Xiangyao “Axe” Tang | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Assistant Sports Editor

 

The University of Utah football team just came up short of a Rose Bowl title in Pasadena, California on Saturday. It was an exciting game, filled with a lot of broken records and memorable moments.

Utah’s offense moved the ball well early on their first drive and got it into Ohio State territory. However, they stalled on third down, forcing them to punt it away. Cameron Peasley pinned the ball on OSU’s ten-yard line.

Clark Phillips III had a massive break-up on a deep shot by Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud. The stop forced a three-and-out on Ohio State’s first possession. 

OSU committed a pass interference penalty defending a deep shot to Brant Kuithe, setting up Utah inside the red zone. Britain Covey scored off a quick pass from Cameron Rising to go up 7-0 early in the first quarter. The early going in this game was all Utah, very quickly.

Utah’s defense forced another three-and-out to get the ball back. Kuithe broke multiple tackles on the first play of the next drive on his way to a 27-yard reception. The offense was surgical the entire way down the field, and the drive was capped off with an acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone from Micah Bernard for the touchdown. 

Bernard played on both sides of the ball on Saturday, stepping into Utah’s short-handed secondary as a cornerback as well as taking snaps on offense. 

“He hadn’t played defensive back since high school, and to be willing to do that for us, I’m proud of him. Very proud of him,” said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham.

Ohio State began to wake up on offense on their next possession, with their first big play of the night coming on a downfield shot for over 30 yards. The play was reviewed and confirmed that the catch was made. At the end of the first quarter, OSU found themselves in a scoring position just outside of the red zone.

Utah stopped the Buckeyes short on third down, but CJ Stroud found Marvin Harrison Jr. on 4th and one for the score. It was 14-7 Utes at the beginning of the second quarter. 

Utah’s next drive had a couple of mistakes, but the Utes fought through it every time. A holding penalty and a mishandled snap threatened to derail the possession, but Rising made play after play to keep the ball moving. A targeting penalty on OSU put the Utes on the six-yard line in a great scoring position. Tavion Thomas easily paid off the opportunity, pushing the lead back to 14.

Stroud hit Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a deep score to put it back to a seven-point game, but then Covey ran back the kickoff for his second touchdown of the day. The score made it 28-14 with about eight minutes to go in the first half. 

Ohio State immediately scored again on another pass to Smith-Njigba. 28-21 Utah. This game was quickly developing into a shootout with eight minutes to play in the half. 

Rising ran in a score from 62 yards out after a broken tackle to make it 35-21. That made it five touchdowns in under three minutes of game time. 

Smith-Njigba caught another long ball for what could have been his third score of the day. Phillips forced a fumble on the catch, which resulted in a touchback on Cole Bishop’s recovery. A huge, touchdown-saving play by Phillips kept Utah’s lead at 14 and gave them the ball back.

Utah was forced to punt with about 30 seconds left in the half. Ohio State threatened to score before heading into the locker room but ran out of time. The score stayed at 35-21 after a wild first half.

The second half started with a threatening punch downfield by Ohio State, but Phillips picked off Stroud in the end zone. Utah’s punt team fumbled the ball after failing to advance, setting up the Buckeyes in scoring position. Stroud found Harrison Jr. again in the end zone to make it 35-28 Utes. 

The Utes answered the score with a long drive into Buckeyes territory. They stalled inside the ten-yard line, and Jadon Redding kicked the first field goal of the night on either side to make it 38-28, Utes.

Utah’s defense bent on OSU’s next drive, but they didn’t break. A massive stop on third down forced a field goal, making the score 38-31 with under three minutes to play in the third quarter.

Utah went for it on fourth down, but didn’t quite get there and turned the ball over. The Buckeyes took advantage and punched it in for the score soon after, tying the game up with ten minutes to play. 38-38, anyone’s game.

The Rose Bowl featured a moment of loudness for Aaron Lowe and Ty Jordan during the fourth quarter.

On Utah’s next drive, Rising went down with an injury. Bryson Barnes replaced him under center. Rising was hurt on a sack that Utah was not able to recover from and they were forced to punt. 

The Buckeyes went right down the field for a score to take a seven-point lead with four minutes to play. Barnes answered right back with a score to Kincaid to tie the game at 45. The Buckeyes took the ball back with under two minutes left in the game, looking for the win.

Ohio State’s offense did what it had done all day: moved the ball with poise and efficiency. They took it down to the two-yard line and kicked a field goal to take the lead. Nine seconds to go, the ball is kicked back to Utah. Covey tried his best to make something happen on the return, but he went down and that was that.

Smith-Njigba torched Utah for 347 yards and three touchdowns. He was unstoppable, and Utah’s depleted secondary didn’t stand a chance. Phillips had an amazing game, and Bernard did his best. He stepped up to play a new position for a short-handed team and gave all of his effort to do so. 

One of the best Rose Bowl games in recent memory didn’t go Utah’s way, but they still have so much to be proud of this season. They fought through tragedy, injuries and early season woes to get to this point, and just being in this game is an honor. 

Winning the Pac-12 was not a fluke. The Utes were the best team in the conference this season, and it wasn’t particularly close. 

“It’s obviously frustrating, very frustrating, to come up short, but that doesn’t take away anything that we’ve accomplished this year,” said Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd.

They have a ton of young talent. The incoming recruiting class is full of remarkable athletes. Many of the veterans are running it back for another season. Whittingham will be back. Rising will be back. There’s a lot to look forward to in 2022, which may end in another Rose Bowl appearance. Why not?

“I’m proud of our guys,” said Whittingham. “They have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about … We’re all disappointed that we didn’t win the game this afternoon, but that’s how life goes.”

“I have a great love for the University of Utah,” Covey said.

Utah didn’t make it to this point by accident, and losing this bowl game doesn’t mean the season was for nothing. It was full of memories and moments that will last a lifetime for these players, this coaching staff, and all of Utah’s fans.

 

[email protected]

@e_pearce_

@splashcitynba