Oregon heads to Utah to take on the 24th ranked Utes in a game that could solidify their case to remain in one of the lead positions as a College Football Playoff team. Utah has been rolling recently after dropping early games to BYU and San Diego State, the later coming in triple overtime. The stakes are huge in this game for the Ducks, below are a few reasons why the Ducks might or might not leave Utah with a win.
Reasons They’ll Win
The Ducks are Rolling
It’s starting to feel like Oregon is hitting their stride, and it honestly couldn’t come at a better time. With all the debate about who the four playoff teams should be, it sometimes feels like Oregon is holding their number three spot by the skin of their teeth. They have the win over Ohio State from September which should matter, but will only take them so far. Oregon’s had a real gauntlet run recently; an emotionally charged game against Washington, a big home win against Wazzu, and now finish up at Utah (who they’ll most likely meet in the Pac-12 Championship) before closing out against Oregon State.
Those who don’t pay attention to the Pac might not think this sounds tough for the Ducks, but we know better. Games against the Huskies always mean more. Wazzu has had Oregon’s number more often than not the last six years. Utah is a talented team that has been on a roll after some early season struggles and this is one of the better Oregon State teams that is bowl eligible for the firs time since 2013. People might argue that Oregon isn’t really blowing out any of these teams, but there’s two counterpoints.
For the first counterpoint, it’s not like the Ducks are playing New Mexico St in the middle of November. These are tough conference games against some of their biggest rivals. The other point is that if you watched their wins over the teams from Washington, you’d know that the Ducks really dominated in the second half. Oregon took over after halftime and put both teams away aside from a meaningless touchdown by Washington State. If the Ducks can beat Utah twice in two weeks and top the Beavers, it could go a long way to help solidify their case, especially if one of the other teams vying for a spot suffers an upset.
Winning the Turnover Battle
Creating turnovers has been somewhat of a roller coaster for the Ducks defense this season. In their first four games, Oregon forced 13 turnovers. That high point was followed by a low one where they only created three turnovers 3 in the next four games. Now in their last two games it seems like the defense has righted the ship, taking the ball away four times, three of which came against Washington State. The Ducks’ D has looked good all year, but are at their best when they force the other team into making mistakes.
Utes QB Cam Rising has been careful with the football so far this season, only throwing two interceptions in nine appearances for Utah. On the other side of the field, Oregon is one of the top teams in the nation when it comes to picking off passes, they’re currently tied for sixth place with 14 on the year, so it will be critical to see how he handles the Oregon secondary and if they can force him into a few mistakes.
One thing that Utah’s defense excels at is getting after the quarterback, they have accumulated 31 sacks so far on the season. Utes LB Devin Lloyd is a versatile stud who excels in a number of roles on Utah’s defense. He has six sacks in 10 games this year and will definitely be someone that Oregon must account for at all times. However, Oregon’s line has shown their mettle all season long, allowing only 14 sacks.
The Ducks line has battled through injuries all season long, having to plug in guys in multiple spots in order to get by, and it’s worked well for the Ducks so far. They have a solid rotation of players and can shuffle through different lineups without a huge drop off in production. If Oregon’s maulers continue their excellent form against Utah, the Utes might have trouble getting the Oregon offense off the field. Brown’s shown he can make good decisions throwing the ball with a clean pocket, and has the mobility to evade the rush should he start to feel the heat.
Reasons They’ll Lose
Devin Lloyd is a real problem for opposing offenses. The junior linebacker is a versatile chess piece who makes plays all over the field. He’s second on the team in sacks while also leading the team in interceptions. He scored a pick-six in the Utes 52-7 beatdown of the Stanford Cardinal.
I know that I just spoke about how well the Oregon O-Line is playing lately. They held Ohio State’s defense without a sack in their win back in September, and have only given up one sack in their last two games. However, Lloyd is probably the most talented defender they’ve faced since their win over the Buckeyes and if he can wreak havoc against the Ducks offense, he’s more than capable of making a big play that could swing the momentum in Utah’s favor.
Dueling Offensive Philosophies
If you compare the two, Utah’s and Oregon’s offenses are eerily similar. Both teams are more run-heavy than pass. Oregon averages slightly more rushing yards per game than Utah, while the Utes averages just a few more passing yards than the Ducks do. Both QBs also post remarkably similar numbers, although Brown has more total touchdowns than Utes QB Cam Rising. Either way, Oregon’s defense will have a tough task on their hands of slowing down an offense that mirrors their own. It’s looking like it’s going to be a real battle in the trenches, both teams have a talented pass rush and solid O-Lines and it’ll be a battle of who’s tougher.
Weight of Expectations
It wouldn’t be true to say that this is the biggest game left in Oregon’s season. With the playoffs on the line, they’re all big. Oregon has to win out their remaining games and hope that they impress the Playoff Committee enough to avoid getting leapfrogged by one of the teams ranked below them like Michigan, Michigan State and Cincinnati. It puts a lot of pressure on this fairly young Ducks team to win convincingly over Utah, Oregon State, and likely Utah again in the P12 Championship Game.
Cristobal has mentioned the importance of not looking ahead to any of the remaining games on their schedule, a message that continues to grow in importance as college football approaches bowl season. Dropping a game now would assure the Ducks are left on the outside looking in, something they want to avoid at all costs. While the Utes and Beavers aren’t teams that should ever be taken lightly, Oregon can’t look past them in any sense, no matter how enticing the thought of a playoff appearance may be.
This is a huge matchup for both teams, and while Utah is currently favored, Oregon is coming to Rice-Eccles Stadium playing some of their best football so far this year. The Ducks look comfortable in their identity and while I think Utah keeps it close, I think the Ducks will win 31-27.