GAME NOTES: After finally defeating rival Stanford last weekend, the fifth-
ranked Oregon Ducks must stay sharp as they challenge the 20th-ranked Utah
Utes in a Pac-12 Conference showdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
In each of the last two seasons, Stanford has ruined Oregon’s chances at
playing for the national championship, pulling out a 17-14 overtime win in
2012 and a 26-20 victory last season. The Ducks got their revenge this past
weekend, stomping their way to a 45-16 victory behind a fantastic performance
from Marcus Mariota.
“It feels good. Two years they beat us, and we got them back,” Oregon
cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said, although he and the rest of the Ducks aren’t
satisfied yet. “It feels good to win, but now we have to get ready for the
next game because we’re playing a team that could be better.”
Oregon is now 8-1, including a 5-1 mark in Pac-12 play. They are also right in
the mix for the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Utah may have something to say about that, however, as the Utes have a chance
to knock off the Ducks this weekend. To do so, they need to quickly recover
from a tough, 19-16, overtime loss they suffered at Arizona State last
weekend. The Utes are still 6-2 overall this season, but they are 3-2 in
conference, meaning they will likely need to win out and get some help to have
a chance at playing for the Pac-12 title.
Another thing Utah will have to do to defeat the Ducks is reverse recent
history. Oregon has won five of the last six meetings, including a 44-21 rout
last season. The Ducks lead the all-time series, 19-8.
Other than an interception in the third quarter, Mariota was brilliant against
Stanford. He threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-30 passing, while
adding two more scores and 85 yards on the ground. Mariota is now the
frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, with 2,541 yards and 26 touchdowns,
compared to two interceptions, through the air, as well as 410 yards and seven
scores on the ground.
As usual, Oregon is back to being the top offensive squad in the Pac-12. The
Ducks have led the Pac-12 in each of the last four seasons and they are
currently leading the league yet again, racking up 533.8 yards per game.
Mariota hasn’t been doing it alone, as the Ducks are once again replete with
talent and speed at the skill positions. Royce Freeman (846 yards, 13
touchdowns) is an absolute beast out of the backfield. He had 98 yards against
Stanford, which actually ended a streak of three games with at least 100 yards
for him. Thomas Tyner (342 yards, three TDs) got into the end zone twice
against the Cardinal, while adding 63 yards on 10 carries.
Byron Marshall’s versatility has been a key component of the offense as well,
as he leads the team in receptions (40) and receiving yards (539), and also
has 307 yards rushing and five total touchdowns. Devon Allen (29 receptions,
517 yards, six TDs) is one of six receivers, including Marshall, to tally at
least 290 receiving yards.
Whether it is due to the tremendous pace of their own offense or their
deficiencies on defense, Oregon is next-to-last in the Pac-12 in yards allowed
(458.6 ypg). However, they are sixth in scoring defense (24.8 ppg).
Travis Wilson leads the offense that will oppose Oregon’s defense in this one.
The Utah quarterback has shown tremendous toughness this season, but that
hasn’t led to overly impressive numbers. Wilson has thrown for only 1,084
yards and nine touchdowns on 56.4 percent passing. The good news is he has yet
to be intercepted.
Utah has been trending downward offensively in general. The Utes finished with
a season-low 241 yards in last week’s loss to Arizona State. They have posted
less than 400 yards in the last six games after churning out more than 500 in
each of the first two.
The passing game and the offense in general took a major hit before facing
Arizona State, as leading receiver Dres Anderson was lost for the season with
a knee injury. In the first game without Anderson, the Utes had only 57
passing yards, with Tim Patrick tallying 33 on three receptions.
“He is a great weapon to have, a great wide receiver. The whole team misses
him. He would have been helpful to have,” Wilson said of Anderson’s absence
against Arizona State.
Devontae Booker remains a steady force for the cause. He compiled 146 yards on
37 carries against Arizona State, and now has a total of 990 yards and eight
touchdowns on 183 attempts this season.
For the most part, Utah’s defense has been able to cover up for its relatively
weak offensive effort, as the unit ranks third in the Pac-12 in total defense
(385.3 ypg), while leading the nation in sacks (39).
The Utes face their toughest test of the season this weekend, against an
Oregon squad firing on all cylinders and led by arguably the best quarterback
in the country. While they may be able to create some stops, there still won’t
be many and that is bad news for a team that has lost its way offensively.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oregon 38, Utah 27