—#17 Utah at #13 Oregon. Elimination game for Ducks. Lose and they have NO chance of clawing back into the the National Championship.
Even if they beat the Utes, the Ducks face a steep climb atop the PAC12 North (have you seen Stanford lately?) still Oregon could still repeat as PAC12 Champs.
For Utah, stakes even higher? I’m thinking this game means much more for Kyle Whittingham’s program than it does for Mark Helfrich’s side. Even though Utah swept the LA schools (USC,UCLA) and won it’s second in a row against Stanford last season, there’s still a scent of ‘lack of thorough respect’ for Coach Whit’s program. That changes forever and for good with a win at Autzen Saturday.
It’s a difficult matchup to really get a feel for. The usual team barometer’s don’t yet apply. With just 3 games of film to break down, sample sizes are simply too small and the questionable competition (combined records of teams Oregon and Utah have played to date is just 9-9). Then there are the minor injuries to starting QB’s. Broken finger kept Vernon Adams out of Oregon’s game with Georgia State last Saturday, Ducks won easily, scoring 61 points with Jr. Jeff Lockie running the offense. Utes starter Sr Travis Wilson’s sore shoulder kept him out of Utah’s workmanlike 45-24 win at Fresno State.
There’s little doubt both starting QBs will start Saturday, I give a slight edge to the 6’7″233 lb Wilson simply because he’s played in and won more big games, throws it better and in a game where a turnover could very well lose the game, Wilson should protect the football a bit better.
The Ducks are averaging over 300 yards rushing (6 yards a carry as a team here in 2015) the Utes allowing just 106 yards/game, but again, with the small sample size and inconsistency of competition that might not mean much although Oregon’s always been great running team and Kyle Whittingham’s Utah Defenses are always stout against the run.
The Ducks will run one of the PAC12’s toughest players, So. “Rolls” Royce Freeman at the Utes all night and at 5’11” 230 lbs (almost 14-hundred yards and 18 TDs last season) he will win his share of individual matchups hence the importance of Utah bringing bodies to the fight, gang tackling Freeman (but Oregon has other speedy, talented backs that just might break a long win and win the game.
Utah has it’s own “top back in the Pac” in Sr Devontae Booker.
Last season the JC transfer romped for 130 yards a game (PAC12 games only) totaled over 1500 yards rushing and piled on another 300-plus yards receiving (all games) and “Book” is flashing those hands of gold again. Devontae ranks 4th in the PAC12, 20th in the nation in combined Rushing/Receiving yards (157) Booker must get off and pile up numbers if Utah is to pull off the upset.
While Utah’s slotmen and receiving corps have flashed potential (Sr Kenneth Scott, Bubba
Pool and Frosh Phenom Britain Covey-14 catches tied for team lead with Booker) this is one group that Oregon should have a distinct advantage with the return to form of Braylon Addison (Ducks-best 13 catches for 185 yards/14.2 yards per catch!) and Byron Marshall, only player in PAC12 history to have thousand yard seasons as a running back and then a receiver!. Marshall’s the kid who beat Sparty’s DB by 5 yards but Vernon Adams airmailed him or Oregon would be 3-0 with a win at Michigan St on their resume.
Defense is where I give Utah a decided edge. Front 7 may be the best in the conference, certainly if THIS Utes team is to challenge for the PAC12 Title, the front has to be big and bad. The safeties (Tevin Carter, Marcus Williams) are as physical a tandem as there is in the conference and with the return of CB Dominique Hatfield , Utah now boasts talent and depth like they’ve never had before. Although earlier I just about dismissed early season statistical rankings and trends since the non-conference schedules have been a mixed bag still the fact that Utes are ranked 67th in the nation in Total Defense (allowing 364 yards and 18. 3 points a game) while Oregon’s way down at 107th in the nation (allowing 456 yards a game and 33.7 points a game, two of their three opponents have been Eastern Washington and Georgia State, both at home)
Special Teams I feel is another one of Utah’s great advantages in this PAC12 season opener.
Oregon’s huge advantage is the pace and tempo of play. It just wears teams down. Utes fans don’t rejoice a halftime lead since the Ducks rely on a major push late 3rd quarter into the 4th.
How I see it? Utes are more balanced than Oregon. There’s uber trust between QB and the OLine, skill guys and coaches. Autzen, at night in the mid-4th quarter, THAT”s when this game will be won or lost. Will the Utes newly developed depth be strong enough to battle the Ducks late? Having dominant punt and FG units is another comfort because while Oregon’s used to scoring quickly, not Saturday night. Then, of course, turnovers will break hearts in Eugene. Utah’s a plus-4 in Turnover Margin. 5 picks, 3 fumble recoveries. Field position will be crucial and it all could come down to just another Andy Phillips FG.
I’m saying 30-27 Utes…4-0 into the Bye Week!