EUGENE, Ore. (AP)—Kyle Whittingham wishes that Utah’s ride would have gone on forever. The Ducks were more than happy to bring it to a screeching halt.
LaMichael James rushed for a career-high 152 yards and a touchdown, and Oregon overcame four turnovers and an abysmal performance by quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to beat the No. 18 Utes 31-24 and snap the nation’s longest winning streak.
Utah (2-1) had won 16 straight games, including their stunning 31-17 upset of heavily favored Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last January. Their last loss was on Nov. 24, 2007, in the regular-season finale against BYU.
“It’s been almost two calendar years since we’ve been in this situation,” Whittingham said. “Twenty-two months or whatever the time frame is. You know we all wish this could’ve gone on for infinity, but that wasn’t the case.”
Masoli ran for two touchdowns, but had two fumbles and an interception in the second half that allowed Utah to rally from a 21-7 deficit to within 28-24 by the end of the third quarter.
An interception by linebacker Eddie Pleasant set up a 31-yard field goal by Morgan Flint with 3:30 left in the game, giving the Ducks (2-1) a 31-24 lead. The Utes drove to the Oregon 37 with under two minutes to play, but Boyett picked off a pass from Terrence Cain at the 5 to preserve the victory.
Cain finished 20 of 41 for 178 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. He also had 68 yards on the ground, but didn’t get much help from an offense that struggled to move the ball all game. Matt Asiata managed only 54 yards on 15 carries.
“Our defense played unbelievable,” Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
The offense, however, was a mixed bag. While Masoli struggled, James recorded his first 100-yard game and his first touchdown. The redshirt freshman, making his first start, led an Oregon ground attack that netted a season-best 217 yards.
“It’s exciting when you do something good for the team,” he said.
Oregon’s Walter Thurmond III returned a punt 78 yards following a three-and-out on Utah’s opening drive to put the Ducks ahead 7-0 at raucous Autzen Stadium. It was Thurmond’s fifth career touchdown and second of the season, after the defensive back scored on an interception return last week against Purdue.
Utah tied it at 6:34 of the first quarter on a 19-yard run by Cain, the drive set up by a blocked punt on fourth-and-20 at the Ducks 24. Elijah Wesson, a reserve wide receiver, appeared to get a hand on Jackson Rice’s kick, then snatched the deflected ball out of the air.
One play later, Cain scored his first rushing TD of the season.
The Ducks went back ahead 14-7 with 57 seconds left in the first quarter on a 3-yard run by James, two plays after Masoli hit Jeff Maehl on a 58-yard completion. The lead swelled to 21-7 on a 22-yard run by Masoli with 4:39 left in the first half.
The Utes had a chance to cut into the lead before the half, driving to the Oregon 2 with two seconds left. Instead of going for the short field-goal attempt, Wittingham opted to go for the touchdown and Cain’s fade pass to the corner of the end zone was batted away by Thurmond.
Utah didn’t make the same mistake on its first drive of the second half, when Joe Phillips kicked a 22-yard field goal after the Utes’ drive stalled at the Oregon 5.
The Ducks answered with 68-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard scoring run by Masoli to put Oregon up 28-10 with 8:34 left in the third quarter.
A 22-yard pass from Cain to Jereme Brooks on a third-and-20 made it 28-17 with 4:03 left in the third quarter, and on the Ducks’ ensuing possession, Masoli was stripped of the ball and Robert Johnson scooped up the loose ball and ran 28 yards for the touchdown.
That’s as close as the Utes would get.