Eugene, Ore. • Kyle Whittingham could never be convinced that stopping the run isn’t step one to winning any game. That shipped sailed a long time ago for the former linebacker who made his coaching name as a defensive coach and coordinator.
That made Saturday’s performance against Oregon the equivalent of preaching to the converted. Whittingham watched his defense get carved up for 347 rushing yards while his team gained a grand total of 91 yards on the ground in a 41-20 loss to Oregon in a Pac-12 Conference clash in Autzen Stadium.
“If you can’t run the ball and you can’t defend the run, that’s not a good place to be,” Whittingham said. “That’s where we were this afternoon.”
The Utes, who traditionally have a strong run defense, struggled in recent weeks to stop opposing teams’ running games. In three losses leading up to Saturday’s game, the Utes allowed opponents an average of 191.7 rushing yards and 5.2 yards per rush.
Oregon’s running back duo of Royce Freeman and Tony Brooks-James seemed to turn the corner with a head full of steam on every other carry. Freeman racked up 139 yards on 20 carries, and surpassed 1,000 yards for the season.
Brooks-James gained 105 yards and rushed for one touchdown on six carries. Brooks-James posted an eye-popping 17.5-yard-per-rush average with 56 yards coming on one run. He broke free from 23 yards for his fourth-quarter touchdown run.
“We just lost our edges,” senior defensive end Kylie Fitts said. “They beat us sideline to sideline, and we couldn’t make plays.”
The Duck had 11 running plays of 10 yards or more, including seven plays of 20 yards or more. With an true freshman quarterback who had just 51 pass attempts in his collegiate career, the Utes were never able to force the Ducks to put the game on his shoulders.
Even the return of starting strong safety Chase Hansen and starting linebacker Sunia Tauteoli — both missed last week’s game due to injury — wasn’t enough to bolster the Utes’ run defense.
“It starts with coaching,” Whittingham said. “Getting the perimeter sured up and having a better answer for their stretch plays and their speed sweeps because [those were] the plays that did the most damage. As coaches, we’ve got to get that figured out.”
UTES RUSH DEFENSE
Pac-12 Conference games
Arizona: 42 rushes, 200 yards
Stanford: 31 rushes, 196 yards
USC: 33 rushes, 174 yards
Arizona State: 46 rushes, 205 yards
Oregon: 49 rushed, 347 yards