- The Huskies are headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season after winning their second Pac-12 title in three years.
For years, the Pac-12 has had a perception problem. It could be the influx of parity—especially in the South division, where USC previously reigned—the multiple issues of its conference network or the fact that only two Pac-12 representatives have qualified for the College Football Playoff in the first four years of the format.
The league’s preseason favorite to make the final four was Washington, which returned enough talent to compete with the nation’s best, including senior quarterback Jake Browning and senior running back Myles Gaskin. But a season-opening loss to Auburn and losses to Cal and Oregon ended any hope of a playoff appearance.
Instead, the Huskies are headed to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2000 season after earning their second Pac-12 title in three years with a 10–3 win over Utah in front of a sparse crowd at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
In a battle of the top two defenses in the Pac-12, it was Washington’s that made the biggest statement. The Huskies, who have led the Pac-12 in total and scoring defense in each of the last four years, held Utah to 188 yards, winning for the 12th time in 13 all-time meetings between the schools.
Browning, the Pac-12’s all-time leader in victories, had 187 yards passing and an interception for Washington, while Gaskin ran for a tough 71 yards on 23 carries, but defense was the name of this game. There were only two plays all night of 20 or more yards, as the teams went a combined 12-of-30 on third downs and both squads put up season lows in total yards.
Washington drove inside Utah’s 30-yard line three times in the first half but came away with only three points, thanks to a failed fourth-down conversion and a Browning interception. The Huskies’ stout defensive unit was even better, allowing just 61 total yards with the Utes running four plays in Washington territory. Peyton Henry’s 29-yard field goal led to the only points scored by either team in the first 30 minutes.
Utah took its opening possession of the second half to tie the score on a Matt Gay 53-yard field goal, his eighth career kick of 50 or more yards.
Disaster struck the next time Utah had the ball. On second-and-five, Jason Shelley hit Siaosi Mariner in the hands, then the ball bounced off his leg and right to Byron Murphy, who returned it 66 yards for the game’s only touchdown. It was Shelley’s first interception since taking over the starting job after Tyler Huntley broke his collarbone in a loss to Arizona State on Nov. 3.
Shelley was promptly picked off again on Utah’s next two possessions, each one by cornerback Jordan Miller. The redshirt freshman quarterback finished 17-of-27 for 137 yards and was sacked twice.
Washington’s opportunity to pad the lead in the fourth quarter failed when Henry’s 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked by John Penisini, wasting a 17-play, 73-yard drive that took 10 minutes off the clock.
After being picked to finish second in the South division, Utah had an up-and-down season that started with losing its first two conference games, including a 21–7 setback to Washington in September. The Utes then reeled off seven wins in their next eight games to secure the Pac-12 South despite losing Huntley and leading rusher Zach Moss to a knee injury.
Now the Pac-12 and its commissioner Larry Scott, who was booed loudly during the trophy presentation, look forward to bowl season and hope the conference can improve on a pitiful 1–8 outing from last year.