So close, yet so far. The Utes stifled one of the best offenses in the nation last week at home against the Arizona State Sun Devils, but fell short offensively in a 20-19 loss. The defeat drags Utah down to only one Pac-12 victory this season and puts them in the middle of a three game losing streak. If the Utes were hoping to have a chance to climb out of a rut, the schedule makers weren't very kind this week, forcing Utah to travel to Autzen Stadium to take on a very angry and very talented Oregon team. The Ducks, fresh off a loss to Stanford that assured the team's elimination from BCS title contention, will be looking to redeem themselves in dominating fashion. Making matter worse, Travis Wilson didn't travel with the team to Eugene after suffering a concussion last week against ASU. With that in mind, here's a position-by-position look at this week's matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Saturday's game:
After news broke Friday that Wilson wouldn't travel with the Utes to Eugene, it's hard to imagine backup Adam Schulz will be able to keep up offensively with the Oregon juggernaut. Wilson's struggles continued last week against ASU as he was largely handcuffed by offensive playcalling and managed only 6 completions on 21 attempts for 121 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Sophomore hasn't looked healthy in nearly a month and most likely needed a game off to get healthy and regain some confidence. Adam Schulz will take over behind center after playing clean up duty against Weber State and filling in for an injured Wilson against USC and Arizona. Schulz has attempted only 45 passes in 2013 with one touchdown and one interception and will face a tall order against the Ducks.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota finally came back to Earth against Stanford after his meteoric rise to Heisman candidacy earlier in the season. The Sophomore was "bottled up" by his standards against the Stanford defense, but still threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Mariota has a ridiculous 31 total touchdowns this year, with 22 passing and 9 rushing. He's also yet to throw an interception, has seven games with multiple passing touchdowns and has led the Ducks to scoring an average of 51 points per game. It's safe to say the Ducks have an advantage at this position.
Bubba Poole and Kelvin York shared the backfield duties for the Utes against Arizona State, with York looking like the more effective and explosive player. However, a costly personal foul kept York in the doghouse for long stretches and the two combined rushed for only 82 yards on 29 carries. It's alarming that this late in the season, Wilson continues to lead the team in rushing touchdowns and no Utah running back has more than two. Poole ranks eighth in the conference in rushing yards with 538 yards, but six of the seven rushers above him each have at least 10 touchdowns. York has 237 yards rushing and two touchdowns this season.
A constant theme with the Ducks over the last several seasons has been a consistent rushing attack and the 2013 team is no different. The leading rusher is sophomore Byron Marshall, who has 925 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and six games with at least 100 yards rushing in 2013. Mariota is dangerous, rushing for nine touchdowns and 495 yards of his own, while DeAnthony Thomas remains a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball with seven touchdowns and 399 yards rushing. Rounding out the group is freshman phenom Thomas Tyner, who has 439 yards and eight touchdowns for the Ducks.
Dres Anderson stepped up for the Utes against Arizona State and burned the Sun Devils' secondary on a few occasions en route to 100 yards receiving and a touchdown. Anderson leads the Utes with 742 yards and six touchdowns and is distancing himself from second leading receiver Sean Fitzgerald, who has 397 yards and five touchdowns. Utah kept the ball on the ground for most of the game last week to limit ASU's offensive touches, but Anderson and Fitzgerald had only six receptions, a figure that won't get it done against Oregon. Schulz will have to get a few more receivers involved if the Utes hope to have a chance.
Oregon's offense is focused primarily onthe run game, but the Ducks have a few talented receivers at the team's disposal as well. The duo of Bralon Addison and Josh Huff have been Mariota's primary receiving options in 2013. Addison, a sophomore, has 675 yards and seven touchdowns this season, with over 150 yards receiving against both Colorado and Washington in October. Huff, a senior, is the elder statesman of the Ducks receiving corps and has 745 yards and six touchdowns in 2013. He has four games with over 100 yards receiving this season. Those two are just scratching the surface though as Mariota relies on his running backs and several others including Keanon Lowe, Daryle Hawkins and Johnny Mundt as receiving targets.
Utah's struggles to keep Wilson upright continued against ASU after the offensive line surrendered four sacks last week. The Utes are tied for seventh in the Pac-12 with 21 sacks surrendered and share a large part of the blame for Wilson's injury troubles.
Oregon's track record of pass protection is among the best in the Pac-12. Because of Mariota's athleticism and mobility, the stats are skewed slightly, but the Ducks are tied for second in the conference with only 13 sacks given up. The offensive line showed some vulnerability against Stanford by surrendering three sacks, a good sign for the Utes if they can get to Mariota.
If Utah has an edge in this game, it's along the defensive line. The Utes quietly field one of, if not the best defensive line in the conference, especially against the Sun Devils. The Utes brought ASU quarterback Taylor Kelly down six times and should have won Utah the game if not for the offense's shortcomings. Utah leads the Pac-12 with an astronomical 33 sacks and has racked up 65 tackles for loss. If I had a vote for Pac-12 defensive player of the year, it would go to Trevor Reilly, who sets the tone each week for the Utes and has 78 tackles, seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.
Oregon ranks in the middle of the Pac-12 for defensive line statistics with 23 sacks and 51 tackles for loss. Junior defensive end Tony Washington is the player to watch for the Ducks. Washington has 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks in 2013. Defensive tackle Taylor Hart, who has 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, is another guy to keep an eye on when matched up against the Utes' interior offensive line.
Utah's secondary benefitted from the pressure put on Kelly and held him to one of his lowest stat totals of the season, 144 yards passing and one touchdown. However, the Utes still rank near the bottom of the conference with 240 yards given up through the air per game and 13 total touchdowns. Utah also continues a turnover drought as far as interceptions go, with only two this season.
Oregon ranks fifth in the Pac-12 with 214 yards surrendered per game, but is tied for second in the conference in interceptions with 13. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is widely considered one of the top cornerbacks in college football and will most likely be lined up against Anderson. Junior defensive back Terrance Mitchell, who has four interceptions and 47 tackles, is another player to watch. Overall, the Ducks could have a field day against Schulz in this one.
Prediction: Yes, the Utes beat Stanford and Stanford beat Oregon, but this Utah team is significantly different than the one that upset the Cardinal. Wilson is out, the running game continues to struggle and the receivers are inconsistent. Oregon is arguably the best offense in the country and will be matched up against a backup quarterback at one of the loudest stadiums in the country. The Ducks will also be looking to reassert dominance over the Pac-12 after losing in Palo Alto. Oregon will cruise in this one 49-13.