Pac 12 Championship Game 2021: Early Preview, Predictions for Oregon vs. Utah
No. 11 Oregon and No. 19 Utah will meet for the second time this season in the 2021 Pac-12 Championship game on Friday, Dec. 3, with a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line.
The Ducks clinched the Pac-12 North title with a 38-29 win over Oregon State on Saturday. The Utes clinched the Pac-12 South title with their dominant 38-7 win over the Ducks on Nov. 20, and kept up their winning ways in Week 13 with a 28-13 victory over Colorado.
Oregon's devastating loss to Utah dashed its hopes of a College Football Playoff appearance—it was ranked No. 3 coming into the game—but the Ducks can still exact some measure of revenge with a win at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.
Utah has its own motivation heading into this one, as the Utes lost to Ducks in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship. A win over Oregon would perhaps be the sweetest of longtime head coach Kyle Whittingham's tenure.
Can Oregon Fix Mistakes from 1st Meeting?
The Ducks have plenty of ugly tape to watch from their first meeting with the Utes, but much of what doomed them in that game can be corrected.
It starts with tightening up the special teams play. Oregon missed a field goal and had another blocked in the first half. The punt and kickoff teams were also in bad shape. Utah's Britain Covey got 59 yards on two kickoff returns and ended the first half by returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown to put his team up 28-0. It was a deflating play and essentially wrapped up the game with two quarters still to play.
Oregon also had a terrible time getting off the field on defense, allowing Utah to go 11-of-14 on third-down conversions. They gave up 208 yards on the ground, and Utah running back Tavion Thomas had three rushing touchdowns. Even if the offense had found its footing in the second half, the defense's lapses on third down would have made a comeback all but impossible. The Ducks' own rushing attack will need some improvement as well after managing just 63 yards on 23 carries.
While the Ducks need to do better on the interior battles at the line to beat Utah, a spark on the edge would also be welcome. Star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux had seven tackles in the first meeting but failed to register a sack or a tackle for loss. If the Ducks can improve the run defense, it will allow Thibodeaux more freedom to go after Utah quarterback Cameron Rising and disrupt his solid, but unspectacular, passing game.
Utah Looking to Follow a Familiar Script in Championship Game
While Oregon knows it needs to improve in all three facets of the game to win the Pac-12 title, the Utes can take heart knowing they already have the blueprint for success.
Much of what worked against Oregon also worked in Week 13 versus Colorado. Thomas had another excellent day, rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown. Rising threw for 179 yards—one more than he had against Oregon—and three touchdowns with just one pick. He managed the game well and didn't make critical mistakes. The defense was stifling against the Buffaloes, holding them to just 148 yards of total offense.
Even though the Utes won comfortably, they didn't come roaring out of the gate. They were down 3-0 early to Colorado but deserve credit for course correcting and avoiding a confidence-eroding defeat going into the championship.
"It's not like we looked past them or anything. We knew that they were a great team, so credit to them. They were playing to ruin our season, and sometimes that's more motivation than anything," said Covey, per the Deseret News' Jeff Call.
Utah will have no shortage of motivation on Dec. 4. It can't be overlooked that Oregon has one of the best wins of any team in college football this season, beating Ohio State 35-28 in Week 2. The Ducks have plenty of talent and game-breakers at a couple of key positions. Utah will need to put together another well-rounded effort if they want to double up on the Ducks.
Oregon might be the more talented team overall and has won the past two Pac-12 championships, but Utah should be the more cohesive squad on Dec. 3. Look for them to put in an inspired performance and claim the Pac-12 title.
Final score: Utah 24, Oregon 21