SALT LAKE CITY — Is it Britain Covey capping a marathon, 7-year long run with the Utah football program, saving perhaps his best for last with two touchdowns, including a 97-yard punt return?
Perhaps it’s Micah Bernard (by the way, Chris Fowler, you weren’t the only national play-by-play to butcher his name this season, but it’s pronounced Mi-kye). The freshman not only pulling in a circus, fingertip catch in the corner, but leading the Utes defense with 10 tackles as a fill-in corner back.
How about Cam Rising magically popping out of a sea of red, white and gray to bust off an improbable 62-yard touchdown run before the half?
No, I got it. It has to be the walk-on freshman from Milford, who most had no idea was even number 2 on the depth chart coming in and making an immediate mark. Bryson Barnes filling in for an injured Rising and throwing a touchdown pass to tie the game is a story he’ll be able to regale his grandkids with, no matter how the rest of his career goes.
Then again, there were plenty of narratives on the other side as well. Any season where the Ohio State (I guess that’s what they prefer to be called) is not competing for a national championship is a disappointing one, but the Buckeyes were still the sixth-ranked program in the country. To give up 35 points in the first half was certainly a wakeup call that perhaps Kyle Whittingham’s group was even better than advertised.
But that’s what halftime is for. Making adjustments, and Buckeyes coach Ryan Day certainly did. Other than Barnes’ 15-yard connection to Dalton Kinkaid with 1:54 left, Ohio State failed to give up another touchdown the rest of the way. While on the offensive side, unleashed a pair of playmakers that will go down in history as perhaps the most dynamic performance from any duo in bowl history. And I’m not talking about the Rose Bowl — I’m talking about any bowl — ever.
The Buckeyes failed to score in that opening quarter. To their defense, two of their top three receivers never even laced up, having chosen to opt out for NFL pastures. But they were still the highest-octane offense in the country, and Jaxton Smith-Njigba took full advantage of the increased reps.
Targeting the fill-in, Bernard, the sophomore broke a bowl record with an unheard of 347 yards on 15 catches; while their Heisman-finalist quarterback, C.J. Stroud, came within just a few yards of former BYU legend Ty Detmer’s bowl passing record set 32 years ago against Penn State.
On a normal day, the Utes own the headlines all by themselves. But the Ute’s 48-45 setback in Pasadena didn’t really feel like a loss to me.
The 2021 Rose Bowl was the second-most watched bowl game of the season (most watched in Utes history). Nearly 17 million people tuned in, meaning eyeballs from every corner of the country who might not normally see the Utes play, saw the product firsthand for themselves.
With a handful of games canceled by COVID, just to have the game played at all was a nice start. But to take the Buckeyes right down to the wire on a coveted New Year’s day time slot — if you ask me — was an even better finish.