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How many points can you pin on one play?

Technically, it was a 14-point swing when senior wideout Kaelin Clay caught a Travis Wilson deep ball, dropped the ball at the 1-yard line in a rush to celebrate, and Oregon's Joe Walker returned it 100 yards to knot the game at 7.

But if spirit has a value, it might have been more.

Utah's fans went from electrified to paralyzed after first watching starter Kendal Thompson drive for a touchdown on the first series and, then seeing Lowell Lotulelei bulldoze blockers to sack Marcus Mariota twice.

Then, Thompson went down with an apparent knee injury.

Then, The Drop.

"I know my teammates may not say it, or my coaches may not say it ... but I take full responsibility for what just happened," Clay said.

The No. 20 Utes lost 51-27 to the No. 5 Ducks on Saturday night, but margin be damned: Utah fans will long wonder what might have been if Clay had delayed his enthusiasm.

The Ducks went into halftime with a 24-10 lead — following the fumble return with short passing strikes from Mariota to Dwayne Stanford and Pharaoh Brown — and while the Utes fought to within a score in the second half, Mariota's efficiency and Royce Freeman's bruising runs broke it open in the fourth quarter.

"We're close," said Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham. "We've closed the gap on this conference in the last couple years. ... But we're not there yet."

Not only did the Utes lose the game, but they lost Thompson and wide receiver Tim Patrick for the season.

On the opening drive, the Utes revealed an offense that bore the hallmarks of what offensive coordinator Dave Christensen ran at Wyoming: two backs, tempo, quick passes and option.

And it worked.

After Clay's 41-yard kickoff return, Thompson went 2-for-2 for 11 yards and rushed four times for 21 yards before pitching it to junior running back Bubba Poole for an 8-yard score.

Thompson left the game with an injury on the second drive, however, crumpling to the ground after stepping into a throw downfield.

Thus, for the seventh time this season, both quarterbacks played for Utah.

Wilson had his moments, finishing 18 of 28 for 300 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw his first two interceptions of the season.

Devontae Booker caught eight passes for 110 yards and a touchdown and rushed 18 times for 65 yards, passing the 1,000-yard barrier, but he also coughed up a costly first-half fumble.

His counterpart, Freeman, rushed 15 times for 99 yards to compliment Mariota's cool efficiency.

"We didn't run the ball as effectively as I thought we would," said Whittingham. "They ran the ball more effectively than I thought they would."

Teams traded field goals after the half — with Nate Orchard forcing a Mariota fumble that was recovered by Brian Blechen.

The Utes later drove 69 yards on six plays, with Wilson picking up a first down with a nifty juke and finding Booker for a 27-yard touchdown to bring the hosts within a score.

Oregon responded. Kicker Aidan Schneider hit a 42-yard field goal to give the Ducks a 30-20 lead with 14 minutes remaining.

But the Utes came back again, this time with Wilson dropping it on a dime to Clay, 58 yards downfield, and hitting Westlee Tonga across the middle for a 7-yard score.

The Ducks pulled away, though, when Stanford hauled in his second TD of the night, dragging safety Marcus Williams into the end zone, and Mariota and Freeman rushing scores closed the books.

"We knew we were in for a dogfight," said Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich. "As you saw, these guys are extremely physical and a very well-coached team. They play their tails off."

Clay finished with 331 all-purpose yards — 152 through the air and 179 on kickoff returns.

The unforced fumble "was definitely tough," Wilson said, "but we're always going to have Kaelin's back, no matter what. I know he definitely regrets it."

In addition to Thompson, Patrick was lost in the third quarter. Patrick's leg was immobilized and he was carted off the field. Oregon later lost Brown, carted off from virtually the same spot in the end zone.

The Utes return to action next Saturday at 4 p.m. MT in Palo Alto, Calif., against Stanford.

Twitter: @matthew_piper —

Storylines

• Wideout Kaelin Clay catches a 78-yard touchdown pass and drops the ball at the 1-yard line to celebrate, leading to a 100-yard return from Oregon's Joe Walker.

• Utah loses quarterback Kendal Thompson to an apparent knee injury after he marched down for a touchdown on the opening drive.

• Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota goes 17-for-29 for 239 yards and three touchdowns and adds 114 yards and one touchdown on the ground.

More coverage

Gordon Monson • Utes rediscover their offensive nerve in defeat. › C5

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