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Feeling Rosy

Dominant defense sends Washington to Pasadena

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11/30 Pac-12 Championships

Byron Murphy holds the Pac-12 Championship Game most valuable player award after finishing the game with two interceptions.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jordan Miller had just one question as the clock hit triple-zeroes at Levi’s Stadium:

“Where the roses at?”

The roses were handed out on the stage for the postgame trophy presentation. They were in the hands and mouths of nearly every UW player.

And after a gritty 10-3 win in the Pac-12 championship game, the No. 11 Washington football team will find plenty more when they go to Pasadena, Calif., for the Rose Bowl.

“It feels amazing,” sophomore cornerback Byron Murphy said. “All the hard work we put in… paid off tonight. We played a great game, and we’re excited for this Rose Bowl.”

There was barely a speck of offense in the final score, but that didn’t matter as the UW defense put together one of the best showings Seattle has ever seen against a physical Utah team. The Utes finished with just 188 total yards, averaging just two yards per rush, and the Huskies hit them for six tackles for loss.

Miller hauled in one interception and Murphy had two, including a game-winning pick-six that UW fans will be talking about for a long time.

Midway through the third quarter, Utah quarterback Jason Shelley threw an comeback route to Siaosi Mariner. The receiver went to the ground as the ball got to him, but the ball bounced off his hands, then off of his left thigh, and finally into Murphy’s waiting arms.

“I was surprised,” Murphy said. “The receiver slipped, and I just knew the ball came up and I had to make the play.”

No Utah player could come close to Murphy as he ran the laced his way all 66 yards to the house for what proved to be all Washington needed.

“We said at the beginning of the week, we said that the best defense was going to win this football game,” defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “That’s what we preached to the defense all week long.”

Utah had five second-half possessions. The first ended in a 53-yard field goal that tied the game at 3-3. The next four?

Murphy pick-six. Miller interception. Murphy interception. Turnover on downs to end it.

“You want your best players to rise up in huge moments and big games,” Lake said. “When it means the most, you want your big-time players to make those plays, and they did.”

The UW offense had four drives last longer than six minutes and more than 10 plays, but the Huskies just couldn’t do much to get on the scoreboard. Utah got pressure on Jake Browning constantly; he finished with 187 yards on a 21-of-33 night, with an interception that, coincidentally, went off of both Ty Jones’ hands and his feet.

Washington took a 3-0 lead on a 29-yard field goal by Peyton Henry with just over three minutes left in the first half. Henry had the chance to make it a two-possession game midway through the fourth quarter, but his 38-yarder was blocked, keeping the Utes in it.

Utah would have it just two plays before Murphy took it back with his second interception.

With Oklahoma earning the fourth spot in the College Football Playoff, Washington will play the champions of the Big Ten, No. 6 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off of a 45-24 win over Northwestern, and will bring to the table one of the most prolific offenses in America.

But there’s a while until that game, and a long time to savor this one. Not that the Dawgs haven’t started peeking forward at least a little

“Pasadena baby,” Miller said. “Hell yeah. I’ve been waiting for this.”

[UPDATE: This article was updated Sunday with the detail that Washington would play Ohio State in the Rose Bowl]

Reach Sports Editor Josh Kirshenbaum at Twitter: @J_Kirshenbaum

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