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Familiar Face Returns as Oregon Hosts Utah

Game Preview

NCAA Football: Oregon at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Oregon Ducks and the Utah Utes meet up Saturday afternoon as both look to snap their three-game losing streaks. Former Oregon wide receiver, Darren Carrington, returns to Eugene on the Utah sidelines and hopes to make an impact.

Progress is ongoing with Braxton Burmeister as he improved last week on the road against UCLA. With the help of Royce Freeman, the young quarterback managed to move down the field efficiently. The lack of finish was apparent in Oregon’s drives as UCLA would stall the offense once entering their territory.

With the score 14-14 at halftime, momentum shifted to the Ducks after Burmeister tied with his second rushing touchdown. After a crushing 49-7 loss to Stanford the previous week, Oregon responded as a whole and was looking to finish.

But mistakes, unnecessary penalties, and questionable play calls in the second half proved costly once again for the Ducks. Burmeister may have shown improvement but has yet to show poise and comfort in the pocket. His throws to receivers were off the mark which disrupted the rhythm offensively.

Late in the game on a fourth down play, Burmeister got stuffed by the UCLA defense. Burmeister has shown he can be active on the ground, but the Bruins caught on and were ready. Had Burmeister handed the ball off to Royce Freeman, a different result may have ensued.

Instead, the Ducks were held off the scoreboard in the second half, losing 31-14 to the Bruins. On a positive note, Freeman surpassed LaMichael James to become Oregon’s all-time career rushing yards leader after rushing for 160 yards. He is now third among Pac-12 rushing leaders and became the 22nd player to rush for over 5,000 yards in FBS history.

At 4-4, Oregon desperately needs some positive momentum for any chance of gaining bowl eligibility. Starting quarterback, Justin Herbert, is taking steps closer to return but Coach Willie Taggart has not indicated a return date. Herbert has been seen practicing in pads and throwing well but has not been taking contact from players.

Coach Taggart did not rule Herbert out against Utah and decision will likely come Saturday before kickoff.

Burmeister is likely to start again and unless he can turn the offense from being one-dimensional, another long day can be on hand. The Utes are allowing about 21 points per game. Utah will undoubtedly be grateful as Coach Kyle Whittingham’s offense is still searching for an identity.

Utah has prided their defense in being contenders for the Pac-12 South Division. Since joining the conference, the Utes have been a dark horse to come out on top. Unfortunately for this season, expectations have not gone to plan.

Like the Ducks, injuries have hurt the Utes to find their footing this season. Quarterback, Tyler Huntley, injured himself in Utah’s conference opener against Arizona. He would miss the next two games but had a reliable backup in Troy Williams who provided a different dynamic to the Utes offense with his mobility.

Against Stanford and USC, Williams gave Utah opportunities to win but came away on the wrong side of the scoreboard. The loss to the Trojans stings the most after the Utes failed on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter to win the game.

Huntley returned last week but got overwhelmed by a surging Arizona State side who were coming off a win against then No. 5 Washington at home. Utah’s starter did not have a high performance as he threw four interceptions. One resulted in a pick-six.

Coach Whittingham expects to see running back, Zack Moss, get more carries in hopes to resolve Utah’s identity crisis on offense. While the Utes have an influential group of wideouts, Moss has been essential in keeping the attack on the field.

Moss may be the focal point for the Utes offense, but Coach Whittingham may have to resort to throwing. The Ducks have been active all season in stopping the rushing attack. Oregon is allowing 119 rushing yards per game.

Carrington expects to be targeted frequently having familiarity with Oregon before being kicked off the team. Last season, Carrington scored the game-winning touchdown at Utah which knocked the Utes out of contention for the Pac-12 South Division.

Now, Carrington has a chance to hurt the Ducks’ chances of gaining bowl eligibility. If anything, Carrington should be fortunate to be playing for Utah. Poor choices on his part in Eugene have hindered his chances of playing on Sundays. His failed drug test before the College Football Playoff Championship game put a damper on Oregon’s chances of winning.

Defensive coordinator, Jim Leavitt, cannot focus entirely on Carrington, Utah’s top receiver with five touchdowns. Targets, Demari Simpkins and Siaosi Wilson, will factor into the game. Expect Huntley to rebound this week after a poor performance against the Sun Devils.

Donovan Thompson and Corrion Ballard will miss the first half for Utah after receiving targeting penalties last week.

Tony Brooks-James and Jake Pisarcik missed the UCLA game due to concussions but have been practicing this week. Both should be available against Utah.

Last time Utah came to Autzen Stadium, Oregon suffered an embarrassing 62-20 loss.

By the end of the game, one team will come away with their three-game losing streak snapped. The noise of Autzen Stadium should provide a boost for the Ducks. If anything, the Ducks to need to find their swagger early which has been lacking the past few games.