Peace out, Pac-12 playoff hopes: No. 5 Utah falls 37-15 to No. 13 Oregon in conference title game

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 06: Oregon Ducks safety Brady Breeze (25) intercepts a pass intended for Utah Utes wide receiver Demari Simpkins (3) during the Pac-12 Football Championship Game between the Oregon Ducks and the Utah Utes at Levi's Stadium on December 6, 2019 in Santa Clara, CA. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Oregon S Brady Breeze intercepts a pass in the first half of Oregon's 30-15 win over Utah. (Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Big 12 should be incredibly happy with Oregon.

The No. 13 Ducks (11-2) scored 20 unanswered first-half points in a 37-15 win over No. 5 Utah on Friday night in the Pac-12 championship game to eliminate the Utes (11-2) from College Football Playoff consideration.

Without Utah in contention, the Big 12 stands to benefit. No. 6 Oklahoma plays No. 7 Baylor on Saturday for the conference title. The winner of the game will be 12-1. If No. 4 Georgia loses to No. 2 LSU in the SEC title game, the Big 12 champion will very likely slide into the fourth and final spot in the playoff.

Utah entered Friday night’s game with a ranking edge for that fourth spot. But a rushing defense that was stout all year got gashed. The Utes pulled within 23-15 in the fourth quarter but a 70-yard touchdown run by Ducks RB C.J. Verdell put Oregon up two scores and put the Utes away with 7:09 to go.

Verdell finished the game with 18 carries for 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns after a final score with 2:33 left. Oregon rushed for 239 yards as a team.

Entering Friday, Utah had given up just 57 yards a game on the ground. Over 12 games, that was just 675 yards on nearly 300 attempts. And Oregon got over a third of that total in 60 minutes of football Friday night.

The Ducks’ win means the Pac-12 won’t have a team in the playoff for a third straight season. After Oregon made the first playoff at the end of the 2014 season, Washington in 2016 is the only other team from the conference to make the four-team field.

Oregon could have made the playoff with a win Friday night. But a loss on Nov. 23 at Arizona State ruined those chances.

Kayvon Thibodeaux has huge game

Defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux was the gem of Oregon’s 2019 recruiting class. The five-star defensive end was the top-ranked player at his position in the class and the No. 6 recruit overall. He signed with the Ducks and first-year coach Mario Cristobal over schools like Alabama, Georgia, LSU and USC.

He was massive for Oregon on Friday night. The freshman blocked a punt in the first half when he came off the edge unblocked. He also had 2.5 sacks and provided constant pressure on Utah QB Tyler Huntley throughout the game.

The 2.5 sacks puts Thibodeaux’s total at a team-leading eight throughout the 2019 season. No other Oregon player has more than four.

Utah struggles on fourth down

The Utes had three fourth downs with two or fewer yards to go during the title game. It failed to convert on all three of them.

The first failure came on the first drive of the game when Utah, quite frankly, shouldn’t have been in a fourth-down situation to begin with. RB Zack Moss got stuffed with a yard to go on third down and set up a fourth down that resulted in a deep handoff to the left side where Moss got stuffed again.

Utah needed to get two yards on each of its next two fourth downs. And it couldn’t get to the marker on either one of those. Huntley got stuffed on the first attempt and a pass fell incomplete on the second.

The Utes also had some horrible luck with injuries. Safety Julian Blackmon went down with a non-contact knee injury in the first half and tight end Brant Kuithe suffered a left shoulder injury in the second half when he made a hard landing after attempting to make a leaping catch.

Simply put, it was a bad, bad night for Utah.

Oregon heads to the Rose Bowl

As the Pac-12 champion, Oregon now heads to the Rose Bowl. Though the Ducks would have been going there anyway with a loss and a Utah playoff berth. If Utah falls below enough teams in the final College Football Playoff rankings on Sunday the Utes could find themselves in the Alamo Bowl. If the committee keeps Utah in the top 10, the Utes will likely head to a New Year’s Six bowl like the Cotton Bowl.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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