Oregon thought the clock would just run out with 11 seconds left in the half and that it could head to the locker room trailing Utah by three touchdowns. It was not to be.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham used his second timeout with Oregon facing a fourth-and-3 from its 32, forcing the Ducks to punt. Britain Covey rewarded his coach’s decision by returning the punt 78 yards for a touchdown to send the No. 23 Utes into halftime leading the No. 3 Ducks 28-0.
Obviously, the Utes’ radio team joined in the excitement with the fans at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
The Utes had just scored a touchdown with 27 seconds left in the half to take a 21-0 lead. The Ducks started the following drive with the ball at their 25 and moved just 7 yards, all on a rush on third down by running back Travis Dye.
Whittingham then opted to give his punt returner a chance. Covey came into the game ranked second in the FBS at 14.7 yards per punt return. He returned a punt 80 yards for a score earlier in the season against San Diego State.
At halftime, ESPN gave the Ducks a 99.4 percent chance to win.
Utah has held a strong home-field advantage in the past, which is partly why the Utes were three-point favorites against the Ducks.
And they dominated this matchup in the first half. Running back Tavion Thomas rushed 16 times for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Cameron Rising completed 6 of 13 passes for 128 yards while also rushing for a score.
Utah’s defense, meanwhile, held the Ducks in check. Oregon had 122 total yards in the first half to Utah’s 242. Quarterback Anthony Brown was 5 for 13 for 74 yards, while the Ducks rushed 13 times for 48 yards. Two Oregon drives ended in missed field-goal attempts.
There were likely many college football fans in Ohio celebrating the Utes’ bold decision. No. 4 Ohio State had a commanding 56-7 win over No. 7 Michigan State earlier in the day but are behind the Oregon because of head-to-head; the Ducks beat the Buckeyes 35-28 on Sept. 11. And then there’s No. 5 Cincinnati, which beat SMU 48-14 on Saturday and certainly stands to benefit from an Oregon loss.
Should Utah finish off the win, the Utes will clinch the Pac-12 South. Oregon would then need a win next week or a loss by Oregon State to Arizona State on Saturday night to clinch the Pac-12 North. Oregon will host Oregon State on Nov. 27. It’s still possible, therefore, that a Ducks-Utes rematch in the Pac-12 championship game Dec. 3 in Las Vegas could be on the schedule.