The Oregon defense held Utah scoreless on the home team’s next possession. But Utah’s four succeeding drives added up to 24 points, with no score more suffocating than Covey’s return. Utah did not stop scoring until midway through the fourth quarter.
“They played the best football game I could see a team play,” Anthony Brown, the Oregon quarterback who went 17 for 35 for 231 passing yards, said. Rising, his Utah counterpart, was 10 for 18 for 178 yards.
Utah, of course, has a glorious history of spoiling others’ big games. It is a program that embarrassed Alabama in a Sugar Bowl, that humiliated Pittsburgh in a Fiesta Bowl, that wrecked Jim Harbaugh’s debut as Michigan’s coach. (Kyle Whittingham, who led Utah in all of those games, on Saturday night earned his 142nd victory as a head coach, a school record.)
No matter. As time ticked down on a chilly night, the stadium announcer gently pleaded with fans to thwart the joyous uprising that felt inevitable.
“Please do not rush the field,” he said. “We ask that you celebrate safely in the stands.”
Many rushed the field anyway.
It was the third game of the day that effectively eliminated a top-10 team from playoff contention — No. 7 Michigan State fell, 56-7, at fourth-ranked Ohio State, and No. 10 Wake Forest lost, 48-27, at Clemson. But Oregon’s loss was perhaps the most consequential. As soon as Tuesday night, when the playoff rankings are updated, Cincinnati, the fifth-ranked belle of the American Athletic Conference, could be on the fast track to a semifinal showdown.
Indeed, for all of the ways any year in college football can seem a muddle, the harsh history for Oregon is that no two-loss team has appeared in a semifinal game since the playoff debuted with the 2014 season. The Pac-12 has not had a team in the playoff since the 2016 season.