Oregon escapes with victory over Utes
With the chants from the student section cascading down on the field and six seconds showing on the game clock, Utah quarterback Terrance Cain stepped up in the pocket and completed a seven-yard pass to wideout Shaky Smithson.
Ball game. 31-24 Oregon.
It was too little, too late for the Utes, who had their chances in the second half to come from 18 points down to win the game, but the Oregon defense played an inspired game and held when it needed to.
“Other than that one touchdown pass that we gave up on third-and-20, that might have been one of the better defensive performances I’ve ever seen by a bunch of kids,” defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti said. “I thought they played hard. They flew around; they kept their cool under adverse situations.
“We had a great stop before the end of the first half. We had some turnovers, we confused the quarterback a little bit, looking like we’re coming and then not coming a few times. I thought it was a very, very gutsy, gutsy performance by those kids.”
Oregon held the Utes to 297 yards of total offense on 75 plays, good enough for just four yards per play. And Utah had seven consecutive three-and-outs during one point.
“Our defense played unbelievable,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “We got the turnovers we needed … our front seven controlled the line. Great effort by them.”
Defensive tackle Brandon Bair, who ended the game with three tackles and two tackles for losses, said the D-line was the key to Oregon’s big day.
“As a defensive line, we got a lot of pressure on (Terrance Cain),” Bair said. “It’s great. Three-and-outs are the best thing ever in terms of the defense. We’ve just gotta keep it going. If the offense has six or seven three-and-outs, we’ve gotta go out and keep doing it.”
It was a good thing, too, that the defense played well. The Oregon offense was held to under 95 yards passing and for the third straight game it was held to zero touchdowns through the air. Add in four turnovers, and the game could very well have swung Utah’s way.
“We had a couple of fumbles and my interception,” Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. He finished the day 4-of-16 with 95 yards and 47 yards rushing. “But the defense stepped up.”
Special teams also stepped up. After the Ducks held Utah to start the game, return man and cornerback Walter Thurmond III returned the punt 78 yards for a touchdown to give Oregon the early 7-0 lead.
“(Walter) is a big-time player,” Kelly said. “We’re undefeated when he scores. He’s the leader of this team for a reason.”
“Credit Oregon,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Oregon played well. They ran the football well on offense and did a good job on defense. And special teams, you know, punt return to open the game was not good. Not good coverage and a great play by Oregon.”
Although Oregon is on cloud nine with the win, it’s now ready to focus on No. 8 California on Saturday at Autzen Stadium.
“Every win is very crucial,” Thurmond III said. “We have high goals still for the season. We’re already looking at Cal.”
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