EUGENE, Oregon — The Ducks grabbed their second win in the Pac-12 after defeating Utah 41-20 on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. The defense suffocated the Utes’ offense, while Oregon’s running game exploded for 347 yards and two scores in front of 56,154 fans.
With one more win, the Ducks will become bowl eligible. This is a big deal for a program coming off a 4-8 campaign, amid a major culture change.
“That was big time,” said head coach Willie Taggart. “It was gratifying to me because we have been preaching it for awhile. Not only for the players but for the coaches because I’m always on them.”
Braxton Burmeister finished his afternoon 9-of-12 for 47 passing yards and one score. The true freshman quarterback added 14 rushing yards on nine carries. Overall, the stats may not leap off the page, but he showed poise and improvement vs Utah.
“That’s what happens when you get reps, you get better,” said the Oregon head coach. “His first victory as a starting quarterback. He had a good week of practice and the coaches prepared him well.”
Oregon slightly won the yardage battle 416-384, but Utah was in comeback mode for most of the game which skewed the stats. The Ducks dominated the line of scrimmage with 347 total rushing yards on 49 carries.
UO improved instrumentally on third down with their youngster behind center. The Ducks were 6-for-13 and averaged 6.7 yards per play.
Royce Freeman was the MVP of the game, as he rushed for 139 yards on 20 carries (7.0 YPC). Overall, it was the 28th time in his career he rushed for 100 yards or more. Last week, he passed the great LaMichael James (26) for the most in program history.
With his noteworthy performance, Freeman eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third time in his Duck career. For his illustrious career, the Imperial product has 5,242 rushing yards in four years of service with the Ducks.
The Duck defense was the other story of the game, forcing Utah into uncomfortable situations consistently. Oregon secured 10 tackles for loss, seven pass deflections, four sacks, three QB hits and two forced fumbles. You couldn’t ask for more from this group.
As per usual, Troy Dye led the way for the Ducks. He tied for a game-high 11 tackles, including 2.5 TFL and one pass breakup. He was helped by Jalen Jelks’ five tackles, two TFL and 1.5 sacks. Austin Faoliu added a sack, while Jonah Moi grabbed a half sack.
The first drive opened the scoring with Cam McCormick who was the recipient of a 5-yard touchdown pass by Burmeister. UO took the early lead 7-0 after traveling 75 yards on 11 plays.
“It’s easy when you actually have some energy,” Taggart said in reference to his team’s effort against the Utes. “We went back to the basics.”
Utah’s first drive was stalled after a sack by Jonah Moi and Jelks near midfield. Oregon’s defense tightened up once the Utes crossed the 50-yard line.
A botched snap caused Royce Freeman to mishandle the handoff on UO’s 21-yard line.
After further review, Burmeister was charged with the fumble. Utah failed to capitalize on the turnover, as Oregon’s defense bent but did not break. The Utes settled for three to slice their deficit, 7-3.
The offense wasted little time answering with a 12-play, 68-yard drive to match Utah, 10-3. Freeman highlighted the possession with a 34-yard scamper down the sideline. Unfortunately, UO would settle for three from Aidan Schneider.
Oregon’s senior workhorse amassed 73 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half.
Kani Benoit had 35 yards on five carries and Taj Griffin registered 34 total yards on three touches in the first 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Tony Brooks-James returned from a concussion vs Stanford with six yards on one first-half carry.
With 5:54 remaining in the second quarter, a former Duck changed the game. Ugo Amadi met Darren Carrington six yards behind the line of scrimmage. As he made the tackle, Amadi stripped the ball, recovered it and housed it 47 yards for the score, 17-3.
“I thought they did a good job,” Taggart said in reference to covering Darren Carrington. “With Darren coming back here, we had to play total defense. Darren got his catches, which he gets in every game he plays. We wanted to be better and keep him out of the end zone. We challenged our guys and they responded.”
After further review by Pac-12 officiating, they concluded that the ball was coming out before Carrington’s knee touched the ground. The call on the field stood.
Tyler Huntley completed a 46-yard pass to Carrington to highlight their following drive. It placed Utah on Oregon’s side of the field, but they settled for three heading to the locker room, 17-6. The former Duck receiver had six grabs for 81 yards in the first half.
In the first 30 minutes, UO dominated the rushing game 125-3 over Utah. The Duck defense stifled the Utes’ attack, yielding just three yards on 14 attempts.
The Ducks and Utes combined for 17 total first downs in the first half. Oregon (8) accounted for one less than Utah (9) over the first 30 minutes. Heading to the locker room, Burmeister rebounded nicely from UCLA going 7-for-8 in the passing game.
Oregon outscored Utah 24-14 in the second half.
Utah offensive lineman Darrin Paulo caught a deflected pass while on the ground in the end zone for a Utes’ score. The oddest play I’ve seen in my life appeared to hit the ground in his hands, but was inexplicably not overturned after the review.
“That’s football,” said the UO head man. “Those things happen all the time. You have to prepare to play with adversity. Again, we went back to the basics. ‘Why did we win?’ Because we were fundamentally sound."
With the game-changing score, Utah trimmed their deficit to just four points, 17-13. Huntley led the Utes 56 yards on their 7-play drive, as 3:24 came off the scoreboard.
On Utah’s next offensive drive, tight end Jake Jackson was penalized 15 yards and ejected in the third quarter for targeting. It led to three Duck points.
Burmeister and Brooks-James wasted no time with their response. The Oregon offense moved 54 yards on seven plays in 2:22, as Schneider punctuated the possession, 20-13.
Following a missed field goal by Utah kicker Matt Gay, UO marched 75 yards down the field in four plays. TBJ set the table with a 56-yard run into Utah territory.
Charles Nelson then threw his first career touchdown pass. After nearly losing his balance, Nelson found Jacob Breeland in the end zone for the incredible play. With the momentous 2:22 scoring drive, Oregon amplified their lead to 27-13.
“I was screaming run!” said Taggart. “Charles has been saying all week that the one thing he hasn’t done is throw a touchdown. Breeland is always in my ear too. Catching it at its highest point. It was great to see and have fun with each other.”
For the birthday boy Nelson, it was the best gift he could receive.
Another Duck defensive stand led to more points, as Freeman, Brooks-James, Benoit and Burmeister combined for 85 rushing yards on six carries on their next possession. TBJ scurried 20 yards untouched to complete the efficient masterpiece, 34-13.
Utah responded immediately with a 6-play, 75-yard scoring drive in 2:27 off the clock. Huntley found Siaosi Wilson for the 29-yard scoring strike to conclude the quick drive, as Utah reassumed their 14-point deficit, 34-20.
You never know, but the presence of the great Marcus Mariota may have had something to do with the Ducks’ renewed vigor. Regardless, it’s never bad to see the legend for a moment or two.
Brooks-James concluded his day with over 100 rushing yards, as well. The junior rushed for 105 yards on six impressive carries, including his fourth-quarter touchdown.
“We felt like we could use our speed,” Taggart said in reference to the highly-successful run game. “Every guy that touched the ball did a great job.”
Benoit placed the exclamation point on Oregon’s massive rushing day. The senior dashed into the end zone from 21 yards out, as the Ducks extended their lead to 41-20 with just under three minutes in the contest. He finished with 71 yards on nine carries.
“Those guys help me out a lot,” said Freeman in reference to his running back mates. “They take the pressure off me. All praise to the offensive line.”
Hunter ended his day completing 25-of-43 attempts for 293 passing yards, two tallies and no interceptions. The duel-threat quarterback rushed for 46 yards on 16 carries. He amassed a long of 33 yards on one run.
Zack Moss led the Utah rushing attack with 53 yards on 10 carries. Aside from a 19-yard run, he was shutdown by the energized Duck run defense.
Carrington led all receivers in the contest with nine catches for 130 yards. He did not score, fumbled away the biggest play of the game and was targeted a game-high 16 times. He was also met by a chorus of ‘boos’ every time he touched the rock.
“I have no comment on that,” Freeman stated after the victory.
Utah’s Rae Singleton had five catches for 59 yards.
Schneider drilled both of his field goal attempts. The Portland product struck his longest drive of the game from 38 yards out. He remains perfect for the season on extra points, going 5-for-5 on Saturday. Overall, he was 7-of-7 on attempts vs Utah.
As far as Justin Herbert’s progression, he was not cleared to play on Saturday.
“He’s thrown the football. He’s practicing,” Taggart replied. “It’s important for us and gave our team a lot of morale to see him out there. That makes us feel better to see him out there. I’m serious when I say it, he’s drinking his milk. Not that light stuff either, it’s that Vitamin D milk.”
Taggart still believes Herbert is closer than most think because of his recent practice and throwing program. With you know who on the horizon, what better time to unleash the secret weapon?
We’ll have more details as the next week unfolds.
Oregon (5-4, 2-4) is on the road next week for a trip to Seattle against No. 12 Washington (7-1, 4-1). Nobody needs a reminder of what happened last year in Eugene. Kickoff is slated for TBD from Husky Stadium via TBD.