The Huskies are headed to the Rose Bowl after defeating Utah in a defensive struggle in the Pac-12 championship. Here are Adam Jude’s quick thoughts on the title game.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — For the first time since the 2000 season, the Washington Huskies are going to the Rose Bowl. The No. 10 Huskies used a dominant defensive performance to shut down No. 17 Utah 10-3 in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night at Levi’s Stadium.
It’s the second conference championship in three seasons for the Huskies, who are scheduled to play the Big Ten champion in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
Three quick impressions from the Huskies’ victory:
Immaculate Interception, Part II
Mason Foster must have loved this.
UW sophomore Byron Murphy returned an interception 66 yards for an easy touchdown late in the third quarter, scoring the game’s first touchdown to give the Huskies a 10-3 lead.
The pass was dropped by Utah receiver Siaosi Mariner, who then kicked the ball up in the air off the side of his right leg. Murphy grabbed it out of the air and ran untouched the other way.
It was the first touchdown of Murphy’s career and the first non-offensive touchdown the Huskies have scored this season. Murphy, the No. 1-rated cornerback in college football according to Pro Football Focus, tormented Utah in the Huskies’ 21-7 victory in Salt Lake City on Sept. 15, posting five tackles, four pass breakups and one tackle for loss.
It also brought back memories of Mason Foster’s wild interception return against Arizona at Husky Stadium in 2009, in which the UW linebacker picked up a pass that deflected off the foot of Arizona receiver Delashaun Dean and returned it for the game-winning touchdown.
Murphy added a second interception with 4:27 left in the game — his fourth of the season — for the Huskies.
Defense wins championships
What a night for the Washington defense.
On its first four drives, Utah’s offense gained just 31 yards on 13 plays with only one first down. The Huskies held the Utes scoreless in the first half, extending their shutout streak to five quarters against Utah dating back to their Sept. 15 game in Salt Lake City.
On the final snap of the first half, Taylor Rapp came straight up the middle on a safety blitz and sacked Jason Shelley for a loss of 9 yards, pushing the Utes out of field-goal range.
Utah scored its first points after its first drive of the third quarter when kicker Matt Gay converted a 53-yard field goal, the ball just passing over the cross bar. That tied the score 3-3.
The Huskies intercepted Shelley on the next two drives — the first from Murphy and the next from senior cornerback Jordan Miller, one play after he had been called for defensive holding. It was Miller’s second interception of the season, both coming against Utah.
Just enough offense
Myles Gaskin didn’t have a whole lot of running room Friday night, but he did enough to help the Huskies extend drives and maintain control.
And as they did a week earlier in Pullman, the Huskies were able to eat up considerable clock in the fourth quarter, methodically driving down the field.
A critical decision came with 5:18 remaining in the game and the Huskies facing a fourth-and-one at the Utah 21. The Huskies initially appeared as if they were going to keep the offense on the field and try for a first down. After a timeout, redshirt freshman walk-on kicker Peyton Henry came onto the field — and his 38-yard attempt was blocked.
That UW drive went 17 plays … covering 73 yards … in 10 minutes, 3 seconds … and resulted in zero points.
Jake Browning generally avoided the catastrophic mistake and did well to manage the game. He nearly threw two interceptions in the first quarter — Utah defenders dropped both passes — and he was intercepted early in the second quarter when sophomore receiver Ty Jones dropped a sure first down and, as he was falling, kicked the ball up for Utah’s Javelin Guidry. But Browning picked up two key first downs with his legs to extend drives, including one in the fourth quarter.