MOTSAG Pretend College Football Playoffs: #6 Utah vs. #3 Clemson

Great defense vs a great offense always makes for an intriguing matchup.  Do the heralded units cancel each other out, which of the unsung, or at least less-sung, units steps up to make the difference?  This quarterfinal game will provide an answer as the powerful defense of 6th seeded Utah faces off against the high-powered offense of 3rd seeded Clemson.  Clemson enjoyed a first round bye while Utah pulled off a close win against Florida Atlantic in the opening round.

Clemson got the ball to start the game and was promptly shut down by the Utah defense, going three and out.  Clemson got off a good punt but Utah broke a nice 25-yard return to give their offense the ball near midfield.  An efficient mix of run and pass plays followed, capped off with Tyler Hunting find Jaylen Dixon open in the endzone for a touchdown to put Utah up 7-0.  Clemson’s quick strike ability was on display on the next drive as two plays gained them over 50 yards but Utah’s defense stiffened and held the Tigers to a field goal. 

The two teams traded punts for the next several possessions with Clemson slowly winning the field position battle.  Midway through the second quarter, the Tigers capitalized, getting the ball near midfield and going on a quick 5 play drive capped by Trevor Lawrence scampering into the endzone to put Clemson up 10-7.  That would mark all of the scoring in the first half as the defenses held sway.

Utah opened the third quarter with the ball and found a bit of offensive success, moving the ball into Clemson territory before being forced to punt.  A big stop by the Utah defense on 3rd and 3 led to a short Clemson punt, giving the Utes great field position.  They once again capitalized as star running back Zack Moss ran over Clemson’s defense, ultimately finding the endzone to put Utah back on top 14-10.  The Utah defense snuffed the next two Tiger drives and suddenly all the momentum seemed to be with the Ute’s who once again found themselves with good field position to start a drive.  Unfortunately, quarterback Tyler Huntley’s first down pass was intercepted and the Tigers wasted no time, taking advantage of the short field to retake the lead, 17-14 thanks to a Travis Etienne touchdown run.  Huntley, clearly rattled, threw another interception on Utah’s next drive and Clemson looked positioned to take complete control.  However, the Utah defense held, forcing a field goal to keep it a one score game, 20-14.

Clemson had another scoring opportunity early in the fourth quarter but missed a 44-yard field goal.  The Utes took advantage, using a big pass from Huntley to Brant Kuithe to get them deep into Clemson territory.  Three successive runs were stuffed and Utah had to settle for a field goal to pull within three, 20-17.  The momentum swung again as a promising Clemson drive fizzled out, ending in another missed field goal and Utah responded with a run dominated drive that ended in a 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 20.  Another defensive stop gave Utah the ball with a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter but they couldn’t capitalize, giving the ball back to Clemson with two minutes to go.  We were set with the ultimate showdown, tied game, clock running down, and a great offense with the ball facing a great defense.  The Utah defense had been stellar for most of the game, coming up with key stops to keep the Utes in the game but the battle had worn them down and the Clemson offense moved quickly and easily as Lawrence completed four straight passes, the last one to Justyn Ross in the back corner of the endzone.  Clemson led 27-20 but there was still 30 seconds left on the clock, giving Utah one more chance.  All season the Utah offense had hung its hat on being well balanced and using the run to set up the pass; something they couldn’t take advantage of with so little time on the clock.  The Utes hit a couple short passes but couldn’t get find anything open downfield as time ran out, giving Clemson the win, 27-20.