Utah Football Fights On to Win Back-to-Back Pac-12 Championships


Jack Gambassi

Utah football quarterback, Cam Rising (#7), lifts the Pac-12 championship trophy after Utah beats the USC Trojans 47-24 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Ethan Pearce, Sports Editor


Never underestimate the heart of a champion.

The University of Utah football team, with their backs against the wall, captured their second consecutive Pac-12 title on Friday night in Las Vegas, defeating the USC Trojans in dramatic fashion. In an all-time classic, this game was much closer than the final score.

Utah lost the coin toss and USC wanted to take the ball first. They were clearly trying to set the tempo of the game, as they did the last time these two teams met, and the Trojans wasted no time. Facing an early third-and-two from midfield, Heisman Trophy favorite Caleb Williams didn’t like what he saw and called timeout.

The Utah fans in the building got louder with each passing second, letting their presence be known to the Trojans offense. Yet, USC went for it on fourth down the very next play, followed by a bomb of a throw from Williams to Tahj Washington to put the Trojans inside the five, and then another pass to Washington for the score seconds later. Utah got a taste of what they’d be up against in short order, with Williams making an amazing play to set up USC for the score just minutes into the game.

Utah punched right back on their first opportunity of the night. Micah Bernard was a force on the drive, looking as spry as he has all season. Money Parks got involved with a 19-yard catch. Nate Johnson took a snap and ran it, then caught a pass the very next play. Andy Ludwig, Utah’s offensive coordinator, went deep into his bag right off the bat, dialing up creative plays to move Utah right down the field like a knife through butter.

However, the drive stalled right on the doorstep of the end zone. On first-and-goal, the Utes ran two consecutive rushes that went nowhere. After a Trojans timeout to talk things over, Utah quarterback Cameron Rising dropped back to pass but found nowhere to go. Their chances snuffed out, the Utes took the chip shot field goal to make it 7-3.

USC took the ball back, and immediately tricked everyone in the building with a fake handoff from Williams, who kept the ball and then ran it 58 yards to set USC up inside the 15. Utah recovered enough to force a long third down, but the Trojans got enough yards to make it fourth-and-short. Williams found Raleek Brown wide open on the right side of the field to push the score to 14-3. Utah found themselves in a familiar situation, down early against the Trojans.

Utah’s next drive stalled out immediately and they were forced to punt. On the last play of the first quarter, Williams uncorked yet another deep ball. It was another blown coverage by the Utah secondary. 

USC couldn’t quite punch it in, though, as Clark Phillips III came up with a pass break up on third-and-goal from the three. The Trojans settled for the field goal to make it 17-3.

Utah began to move the ball on the next drive, as Rising completed a big pass to Jaylen Dixon. However, Dixon fumbled the ball, leading to USC taking over at midfield. The defense made another big stand, however, and took right back over on downs as USC couldn’t get it on fourth-and-eight.

Utah took the field knowing they needed a touchdown to keep themselves in the game. A methodical drive featuring a fumble from Bernard recovered by Utah’s Keaton Bills and then a touchdown courtesy of Ja’Quinden Jackson cut the deficit to 17-10. 

USC was again snuffed out on their next drive, with the Utah defensive line finally breaking through for a sack on second-and-one, and then a great tackle behind the line of scrimmage to force a punt. With 1:40 left in the first half, down seven, it became Utah’s ball.

Led by Rising, Utah sliced right down the field again. Using their timeouts wisely, they managed to do just enough to punch in a score, despite some adversity. Solomon Enis was flagged for a hold, Dalton Kincaid dropped a would-be touchdown in the end zone and Utah almost ran out of time. Nevertheless, Dixon caught the game-tying touchdown with two seconds left in the second quarter, knotting the game at 17 going into the locker room.

Utah got the ball to start the second half, and made it to midfield thanks to a facemask penalty on USC. They were then forced to punt, which pinned the Trojans back deep in their own territory. Utah then put the clamps on, sacking Williams for a big loss and forcing a punt, which they caught inside USC territory. 

Rising was tripped up on first down for a loss of nine. Following an incompletion, Utah faced third-and-19. Rising found Parks on the run for not only the first down, but a long catch-and-run straight to the end zone. After a disastrous start, Utah took the lead, 24-17.

Another Trojans possession, another Utah sack to set up third-and-20. The defense, with as rough as they looked to start the game, was absolutely balling by the third quarter, giving the offense a short field to attempt to lengthen the lead following the stop. USC managed to get the necessary stop, forcing Utah to punt.

Utah forced another stop immediately afterwards, took the ball back, and began driving again. Rising got hit hard on a rush, which caused his helmet to come flying off. He stayed in the game after being looked at, but there was no targeting penalty after a review. Utah kept driving, and faced a tough decision heading into the fourth quarter, staring at fourth-and-three from the USC 17-yard line. Go for it or kick the field goal?

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham chose field goal. Jadon Redding knocked it through to put the lead at 27-17 Utah with 15 minutes to play. With the way their defense had been playing, going up by two scores was the safer choice.

The Trojans did not go away. After being stagnant since the second quarter, USC embarked on a nine-play, 75-yard drive to cut the lead down to three. Williams had been dealing with an apparent injury since the early part of the game, but he looked back to full strength on that drive to keep USC’s hopes alive.

Right back on offense, the Utes made the most of their opportunity to snatch the momentum right back. Thomas Yassmin did his best Kincaid impression, breaking tackles on his way to a rumbling 60-yard touchdown. Utah came back on top by 10 in extraordinary fashion.

Facing fourth-and-three back in their own territory, USC attempted a gutsy play. The pocket broke down, Williams scampered away and heaved a ball deep down the field for Jordan Addison, caught for 48 yards. Had Utah gotten the stop there, the game may well have been over, but Williams kept USC’s hopes alive yet again with another incredible play.

With the game hanging in the balance, Williams threw towards the end zone. The receiver didn’t turn around in time, and R.J. Hubert read the quarterback’s eyes, jumping the route and picking off Williams. That set Utah up for another long touchdown, this time on a run from Jackson for his second touchdown of the game. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty moved the extra point attempt back 15 yards, and it was missed to keep the score within 16 points, two possessions for the Trojans to have any attempt at tying the game.

USC tried to mount a last-minute comeback, but they were thwarted by Mohamoud Diabate sacking Williams and forcing a fumble on fourth down. Bernard then put the icing on the cake with a 23-yard touchdown run to finish it off. The final score was 47-24 in a game that was much closer than the score appeared. Utah repeated as Pac-12 champions, and Rising won the game’s MVP award. 

“It was destined,” Rising said. “That’s what it felt like.”

While an official announcement has not been made, Utah now qualifies for their second consecutive Rose Bowl and will likely play Penn State. Michigan and Ohio State are both in position to make the College Football Playoff, leaving the Nittany Lions as the next choice for the Granddaddy of Them All.

“We’re excited,” Whittingham said. “We’re excited and proud. It’s a pleasure to be around this team and these coaches, and I love the culture that we have in our program.”

It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Utah, but it will end in a familiar place. They’re looking for revenge after losing last year’s game to the Ohio State Buckeyes. 

“It’s been a magical season in a lot of ways,” Whittingham said. “Things just fell into place.”


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