SALT LAKE CITY – Joe Walker returned Kaelin Clay’s careless goal line fumble 100 yards for a touchdown, Marcus Mariota threw three touchdown passes and ran for another score and No. 5 Oregon turned back No. 20 Utah 51-27 on Saturday night.
Mariota was not at his best, but he did nothing to hurt his Heisman Trophy hopes while keeping the Ducks (9-1, 6-1) in the thick of the College Football Playoff race. The junior ran for 114 yards and was 17 for 29 for 239 yards passing.
Utah’s Travis Wilson didn’t get the start, but threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns after Kendal Thompson went out with a knee injury. Clay had 152 yards on five catches, but it was the one yard he let slip away that will be remembered most.
The Utes (6-3, 3-3) were on their way to taking a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter as Wilson connected Clay on a deep ball down the middle. Clay was cruising to an easy touchdown when he casually dropped the ball about a yard before he crossed the goal line. The ball sat on the turf for about 4 seconds, right at the feet of Oregon defensive back Erick Dargan.
While Clay celebrated with two teammates in the back of the end zone, Dargan finally picked it up and tried to take it out of the end zone.
He got into a scrum with a Utah player and lost the ball. Walker then grabbed it and took off the other way. By then there was a flock of Ducks leading Walker against only one Utah player and Walker chugged in to tie the game at 7.
The Utes and their fans were stunned silent. Clay slumped down on the bench and briefly pulled his black head band down over his eyes.
The play covered 178 yards – 78 one way and 100 the other.
If ever a play killed momentum, this was it.
Oregon scored the next 17 points, including two short touchdown passes by Mariota, to go up 24-7.
The Ducks have won five straight since losing to Arizona, pushing themselves back into prime playoff position.
They seemed to have fixed the offensive line issues that hampered them early in the season. There might still be more problems to address. Playing without injured right tackle Matt Pierson, the Utes sacked Mariota on consecutive plays on the opening series.
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