Utah football headed back to the Rose Bowl after coming from behind to beat USC to claim Pac-12 championship

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Utes got a 300-yard passing play from Cam Rising and an excellent defensive effort in the second half.

(Steve Marcus | AP) Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, right, presents the trophy to quarterback Cameron Rising, center, after Utah defeated Southern California 47-24 in the Pac-12 Conference Championship NCAA college football game on Friday, Dec. 2 2022, inVegas.

Las Vegas • There was a lot of noise surrounding the Pac-12 championship game.

Noise over No. 4 USC, and how Friday night at Allegiant Stadium was just a stepping stone to inclusion in the College Football Playoff. Noise about Caleb Williams, and how the Trojans’ sophomore quarterback is the prohibitive favorite for the Heisman Trophy.

Kyle Whittingham has heard it all.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, left, shakes hands with Southern California coach Lincoln Riley following Utah’s 47-24 victory in the Pac-12 Conference Championship NCAA college football game on Friday, December 2, 2022 in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

“We clearly got the message loud and clear that a lot of people are underestimating us and giving us little chance in this game,” said Whittingham. “That’s the wrong group of players to do that to. We’ve traditionally been a chip-on-on-on-shoulder type of program. That gets harder and harder to do as you get more successful, but that was in our DNA from way back when we felt a little bit disrespected and people didn’t give us what we were due.

“You were shaking a little wasp’s nest when that happened.”

Whittingham’s 11th-ranked Utes, two scores early on the Trojans, pointedly hit back against perception. Game MVP Cam Rising threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns, Ja’Quinden Jackson ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns, and the defense sacked Williams seven times as Utah defended its Pac-12 title with a 47-24 victory over USC for 61,195 , a Pac-12 championship game record for a neutral site.

The win sends the Utes (10-3) back to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, while USC is now out of the CFP mix, but likely heading to another New Year’s Six bowl. Utah’s Rose Bowl opponent will become more apparent after the rest of Saturday’s conference championship games. Assuming Michigan beats Purdue in the Big Ten championship game, Penn State appears to be the conference’s Rose Bowl representative.

“I thought we were taking it a little personal and saw all that as disrespect,” said Rising, who went 22-for-34 passing and now has three 300-yard passing games in four career starts vs. USC. “We just wanted to go out and prove a point.”

Utah wide receiver Money Parks (10) outruns Southern California defensive back Mekhi Blackmon (6) to score a touchdown during the second half of the Pac-12 Conference Championship NCAA college football game on Friday, December 2, 2022 in Vegas. Utah running back Micah Bernard is on the left. (AP Photo/Steve Marcus)

USC (11-2) and Utah traded touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter, the latter coming on a 60-yard catch and running from Rising to tight end Thomas Yassmin, who broke a tackle on the left sideline, took to the field and then another would-be tackler hauled into the end zone to return the Utes to a 10-point lead, 34–24, with 10:08 remaining.

The Trojans went to the edge of the red zone, but on the second and thirteenth of 23, senior safety RJ Hubert intercepted Williams, sending the ball back to the Utah 39.

Three plays later, Jackson’s 53-yard romp, complete with two broken tackles and dragging a defender into the end zone, slammed the door, putting Utah in front, 40–24, with 5:29 left.

“We already knew what we had to do,” Jackson said. “It was an ordinary game for us. We knew we had to play physically, we knew we had to stay together as one. It was just an ordinary game for us.”

The first half on Friday night went much like the first half of Utah’s 43-42 win over USC on Oct. 15

Fueled by Williams’ play, with some help from an often porous Utah secondary, the Trojans went up two touchdowns early in the second quarter, then failed to capitalize on multiple chances for an early knockout.

At 17-3, Utah got the ball back thanks to a fourth downpass stop by freshman safety Sione Vaki after USC, doing everything it wanted on offense, went for it on the fourth-and-eighth from the Utah 37-yard line.

The ensuing Utes drive went 11 plays and 66 yards over 6:33, capped by Jackson’s 8-yard touchdown run down the middle on third and fourth to trim the deficit to 17–10. Within those 11 plays, Utah converted on fourth and second on the 18 through a 4-yard keeper from Rising.

(Aaron M. Sprecher via AP) Utah quarterback Cameron Rising (7) celebrates after leading his team to a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against USC for the Pac-12 Conference championship, Friday, December 2, 2022, in Las Vegas.

At this point, after giving up scores on USC’s first three drives, Utah’s defense had settled down. It got another stop, this time forcing a kick before Rising came up with another long drive to close out the half.

The Utes overcame two drops along the way to go 81 yards over 14 plays and just 1:38 when Rising’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Dixon with two seconds left in the first half made it 17.

Rising was sharp in the first half, sharper than he has been in weeks while dealing with a left knee injury, throwing for 157 yards and passing the Dixon touchdown at 14-for-24 in the first two quarters.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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