The No. 3 ranked Oregon Ducks take on the No. 23 ranked Utah Utes on Saturday in what could be a preview of the Pac 12 title game. Both Oregon and Utah need to win just one of their final two games in order to clinch their respective divisions. However, the Ducks have more on their minds than just a potential conference title. At 9-1, it is very likely Mario Cristobal’s team can punch their ticket to the College Football Playoffs if they win out.
How Oregon wins on the Road
Oregon is no stranger to close games this year. The Ducks have seen half of their games decided by one possession, including their only loss of the year. It will most likely take another complete game effort to take down a surging Utah team looking to make a statement at home, but Oregon has all the tools they need to make a statement of their own on Saturday.
Offensively, the Ducks have been rather streaky all year. Quarterback Anthony Brown has been good at times, but has struggled to maintain consistency throughout the course of the game, especially when it comes to throwing the deep ball. Brown averages just 7.7 yards per attempt, and no Oregon wide receiver has over 400 yards on the season. After losing starting running back CJ Verdell fairly early in the season, Travis Dye has stepped up in a huge way for the Ducks to revive the rushing attack. Dye, who has over 900 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, will most likely be the primary weapon for the Oregon offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Oregon seems to have a knack for doing what it takes to pick up the win. Whether it be a late interception to cap a 34-31 win over UCLA or a safety to ice a 26-16 win over Washington, the Ducks defense is at its best with the game on the line. This week, they will take on a well balance Utah offense who throws for 223 yards per game and rushes for 214 yards per game. One way to take away that balance is to force obvious passing situations, so look for Oregon defense to try and shut down the run early and go from there.
Can Utah Pull off a Stunning Upset?
Utah has had a roller coaster of a season. After a shaky 1-2 start, the Utes ripped off three straight wins before losing to Oregon State on the road. Now they find themselves on another 3-game win streak with the chance to knock off a Top 4 team. So can Utah stay consistent enough to pick up a massive win, or will it be another disappointing loss?
Offensively, Utah must maintain their balance in order to keep Oregon on their heels. Running back Tavion Thomas will be the star if the show for the Utes. Thomas, who is expected to play after missing a game for undisclosed reasons, averages 6.1 yards per carry and has 14 rushing touchdowns on the season. His grinding pace opens the door for quarterback Cam Rising to find passing lanes and do just enough to keep defenses guessing. If Thomas is good to go, look for him to set the pace early and often.
Defensively, Utah’s strategy is pretty clear. Travis Dye is the most consistent weapon Oregon has, so stopping him should be the Number 1 priority. Expect to see a lot of loaded boxes from the Utes defense, particularly on early downs. Aside from shutting down the Ducks potent rushing attack, Utah will look to force mistakes in the passing game. Anthony Brown has struggled with accuracy, so creating tight windows could lead to a few key turnovers for the Utes.
These two teams will likely meet again in the Pac 12 title game, so this could be a fun preview of things to come. With two fairly powerful offenses and two defenses who have struggled at times during the season, this one will probably be one of the higher scoring affairs on Saturday. I expect Travis Dye to continue his stellar season, while Anthony brown and the Oregon defense do just enough to secure a win. Oregon wins this one, 41-31.
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