Cam McCormick has made some critical plays for Oregon this season but the tight end’s quick tackle of Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III might be one that lives in memories for a long time if the Ducks win a conference championship.
The seventh-year senior tight end went from blocking a rusher to allow Bo Nix to complete a 50-yard pass to Dont’e Thornton down the right sideline, to split out wide to the left sideline on the next play. When Nix fired across the field, Phillips peeled away from covering his receiver in the slot and intercepted the pass with nothing to stop him from returning it for a go-ahead touchdown except McCormick’s quick reaction to get the Utes All-American down.
“I was glad to see him get tackled down,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said. “We’ve been really good at delivering those. Empty was really a productive formation for us and it’s been really productive for us all year. That’s the first time we’ve really been picked in that situation. So it was really an elite play by them and that was a big-time break on the ball. We want to get the ball there a little bit quicker, but obviously, getting them down was big.”
McCormick recognizes how important his stop of Phillips was, but isn’t letting the magnitude of circumstances skew his perception.
“That’s just me playing football doing what I’m supposed to do,” McCormick said. “If that’s the case I got to go tackle him. If it’s a bad ball you got to go break it up and that’s what I was trying to go do. Obviously I had to try to tackle him. That’s what I did. … In the moment the play was there and then it wasn’t there. I have to shift my focus to how can I prevent this play from being even worse from what it already was and that was to get him down on the ground.”
No. 9 Oregon (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) is a win or Washington loss away from playing in a fourth straight Pac-12 Championship game. Had it lost to Utah, UO would’ve effectively been eliminated from the title game and be in line for a likely trip to the Holiday or Las Vegas bowls.
That’s the dramatic difference McCormick’s tackle and several other critical plays from last week had on Oregon’s season. Utah’s ensuring drive ended with Bennett Williams’ second interception of the game.
“At that point I had to have (Nix’s) back and he had to trust me to make the play or make the tackle and that’s what we did and the defense went out there and made a good stop,” McCormick said. “I’m glad that it definitely saved the season. We’re still alive and we’re still out here getting better every week.”