Utah has looked solid in the first two games of the season, getting their vengeance against Utah State and beating up on Weber State, but the real test begins this week. Utah faces off against its first Pac-12 opponent of the season, Oregon State, which was one of many victims to FBS teams in week one, but handled Hawaii last week 33-14. Here’s a position-by-position look at this week’s matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Saturday’s game:
Travis Wilson looked like the real deal last week against Weber State, carving up the Wildcats’ secondary for 264 yards and three touchdowns on 16 of 19 completions in the first half. He added 93 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, impressive efficieny even against a lower tier team. So far this season, Wilson is a 66 percent passer with over 560 yards through the air and five touchdowns.
There was some debate heading into the season for Oregon State as to who would run the offense, senior Cody Vaz or junior Sean Mannion, but Mannion has undoubtedly seized the job. He had 372 passing yards and four touchdowns against Hawaii and led the Beavers to 508 yards of total offense. Mannion has nearly 800 yards passing through two games and is an incredible 79 percent passer with seven touchdowns.
Utah suddenly has a bevy of options in the backfield to tote the ball. Kelvin York, the incumbent starter, rumbled for a 24 yard score in the second quarter against Weber State, but junior Lucky Radley stated his case to take a few more carries from York moving forward. Radley had 13 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats and to this point in the season, five different backs have had at least 10 carries for the Utes.
Oregon State has struggled so far this season in the running game despite high expectations for the tandem of Storm Woods and Terron Ward. The Beavers managed only 57 yards on 33 attempts against Hawaii, while no Oregon State back has had over 75 rushing yards in two games this season. Woods has scored twice, but is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry while Ward is even further behind at 2.8 yards per carry.
Utah has found a legitimate tandem of wide receivers in Dres Anderson and Sean Fitzgerald. The duo is averaging more than 20 yards per catch with 328 yards between them and has combined for two touchdowns on 14 catches. Wilson is also building a rapport with junior tight end Jake Murphy, who has 81 receiving yards and a touchdown of his own this season. Third receiver Anthony Denham is no slouch either, with 129 yards receiving this year.
Oregon State’s offense has been primarily through the air this season and there’s no question that junior receiver Brandin Cooks is the catalyst of the passing game. Cooks had seven receptions for 92 yards and two touchdowns against Hawaii, bringing his season total to 288 yards and four touchdowns. Sophomore Richard Mullaney and junior tight end Connor Hamlett are options two and three for Mannion, with a combined 21 receptions, two touchdowns and 213 yards receiving.
Utah’s offensive line kept Wilson clean against Weber State, surrendering zero sacks and incurring only one holding penalty. The offensive line looked more cohesive than against Utah State, when it surrendered three sacks and helped pave the way for 338 yards rushing for the Ute runningbacks against the Wildcats.
Oregon State’s offensive line held up well against Eastern Washington, but surrendered two sacks against Hawaii. There’s also concern about the offensive line’s ability to open holes in the running game as the team’s backs continue to struggle.
Defensive Line and Linebackers
Utah’s defense had a field day against Weber State last week, racking up seven sacks for a total loss of 38 yards. In total, eight Utes had a sack or a share of a sack, while the defense took up residence in the Wildcats’ backfield with 10 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Tenny Palepoi and defensive end Nate Orchard have combined for seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks alone and it doesn’t hurt that the Ute defense held Weber State to 205 total yards of offense and only seven points, especially after giving up 487 yards to Utah State.
Oregon State rebounded from a rough week of surrending over 600 yards of offense and 49 points to Eastern Washington by holding Hawaii to 239 yards and 14 points. However, it’s alarming the Beaver defense has already given up 864 yards of offense and 618 passing yards in two games against inferior opponents. Senior Michael Doctor and junior defensive end Scott Crichton are the leaders of the defense with a combined 3.5 sacks and four tackles for loss.
Utah rebounded after allowing Chuckie Keeton to rack up 314 passing yards by limiting Weber State to 136 passing yards and zero touchdowns. It’s slightly alarming the Utes defense hasn’t picked off a pass yet, but the unit does have eight passes defensed and eight pass break ups. Junior safety Eric Rowe is the man in the secondary for the Utes, with 13 total tackles, three pass break ups and three passes defensed.
Oregon State’s secondary has been average at best so far this season, giving up 618 passing yards in two games, despite improvements from week one to week two. Junior cornerback Steven Nelson has been the leader so far for the Beavers, with 12 tackles, two passes defensed and the team’s lone interception.
Kyle Whittingham is 7-11 against Pac-12 teams and the Utes have sputtered so far since joining the conference, but the confidence of starting the season 2-0 and the hunger of improving in conference play will be enough to topple the Beavers. Oregon State will struggle against Wilson and the balanced Utah running game, causing the Beavers to fall further behind their preseason hype.