Oregon State is in the thick of the BCS hunt, is aiming for its first 6-0 start and is a leader in the Pac-12 North division. No question the No. 8 Beavers have plenty riding on their game against the Utah Utes on Saturday when the teams kick off at 8:30 p.m. MDT.
As for the Utes (2-4, 0-3), well, the team off the national radar and all but out of the conference race believes it has even more to lose — like, the whole season.
The Utes, desperate for a league win, see the matchup against the Beavers (5-0, 3-0) not as some insurmountable challenge, but as a big opportunity to turn their fortunes in their favor.
Win now, and the Utes’ schedule would be favorable enough for them to keep their bowl hopes realistic. Lose, and their backs will be against the wall.
If anyone has the thought the Utes won’t give it all they have, think again, they say.
“We’re going to compete and try to win a ballgame,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “There is still a lot to play for. The season is at halfway, and the guys are working hard. We took a step forward last week, and we need to take another step forward this week.”
While the Utes are decidedly underdogs, they at least go into the game with some comfort that they’ve found some consistency in their lineups after several weeks of experimentation and changes.
The Utes plan to start the same five guys on the offensive line for the third week in a row, the offense has had yet another week to adjust to new schemes, and the defense feels it is closer to playing like its usual stingy self.
Whittingham said earlier this week the Utes are closer than most realize to being a good team. His players are eager to prove their coach right.
“Last year, we started 0-4 in the conference and we didn’t hit the panic button and turned things around,” defensive end Trevor Reilly said. “Hopefully, this week things will work out again. We need a win.”
With an ailing offense led by a quarterback making just his second start, the Utes could use some help from the defense to get things going.
Utah has made just two interceptions this year, a number considered unacceptable by the Utes, who finished the 2011 season with 19 interceptions.
“Something like that, an interception, can change the whole complexion of the game,” Reilly said. “We know we need to do a better job.”
Quarterback Travis Wilson will be making his second start of his career in what will surely be a raucous atmosphere, but he said he is ready for it.
“It’s definitely a big game for us,” Wilson said. “We know we need a good start, a fast start, to turn things around for us.”
Otherwise, well, the Utes aren’t considering any other options right now.
“We’re a team full of hard workers — we always have been,” tight end Kendrick Moeai said. “We’ll keep fighting.”
Utah at No. 8 Oregon State
P At Reser Stadium (Corvallis, Ore.)
Kickoff • 8:30 p.m. MDT
TV • ESPN2
Radio • 700 AM
Records • Utah 2-4, 0-3; Oregon State 5-0, 3-0
Series history • Oregon State leads the series 9-6-1 with Utah’s only win at Corvallis coming in 1991.
Last meeting • Utah won, 27-8, Oct. 29, 2011
About the Utes • The Utes must win to avoid another 0-4 start to Pac-12 play. … The Utes are staying in Eugene and will take a bus to Corvallis on Saturday. … OSU is Utah’s highest-ranked opponent since a 47-7 loss to TCU in 2010. … Utah coach Kyle Whittingham is 8-9 against teams ranked in the Top 25.
About the Beavers • Looking for their first 6-0 start in the program’s history. … Sophomore defensive end Scott Crichton (6-3, 263) leads the nation averaging 1.6 sacks a game. … Senior corner Jordan Poyer (6-0, 190 pounds) was named the national defensive player of the week after he had four tackles and three interceptions against Washington State. … Coach Mike Riley is 77-63 in 11 years with the Beavers.