Date & Time: Thursday, October 2nd, 2008, 7:00 MST
Radio: KALL 700
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah
All-time series: Oregon State leads 9-4-1
Last meeting: 2007, Oregon State 24, Utah 7
Facing their biggest test yet, Utah hosts Oregon State this Thursday. They'll be looking for a bit of revenge after last season's loss, but more importantly, a 6 and 0 start. It won't be easy, however, as the Beavers are coming off the biggest win in school history, after they upset #1 ranked USC. It marks the first time Utah and Oregon State have met in Salt Lake City since 1992, a 42-9 Utah victory.
The Beavers struggled at the beginning of the season, losing their opener against Stanford and then getting blown out against Penn State. But since that 0-2 hole, they've won their last two games and are hitting their stride at just the right moment, especially on offense. That will provide Utah with a challenge they've really yet to see this season, a decent offense.
Leading the offensive charge is freshman tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, who carved up USC's defensive line last Thursday on his way to 186 yards. And though Utah's run defense has looked stout this season, Rodgers will be their biggest test yet. He basically put the Beaver offense on his shoulders last week and carried them to victory, abusing what was supposed to be one of the best run defenses in the country. USC had only allowed about 46 yards per game on the ground prior to Thursday's contest with Oregon State. Now, it's a bit higher. So the Utes, who rank fifth nationally in that regard, can't take that ranking for granted.
Outside of Rodgers, Oregon State has a pretty solid passing game, as well. They're led by Lyle Moevao, who has thrown for 1,089 yards on the season and has a completion rate of 62%. Against the Trojans, he went 18 of 28 for 167 yards and two touchdowns. That was actually his least effective performance, at least through the air, on the season. Of course, that also has to deal with the fact the Beavers relied on their ground game more than anything and why not, it worked. But this just adds a new dimension to Oregon State's already powerful offense.
Defensively, it's a different story for the Beavers. They don't boast the toughest defense Utah will see this season, so for all the power they have on the offensive side of the ball, it's a different story when it comes to defending the opposing team.
It's not that their defense is bad, it isn't, it just isn't great, either. The Beavers give up about 27 points per game and against their toughest competition, Stanford, Penn State and USC, that total rises to 35. However, the strongest aspect of the Oregon State defense is their pass defense, as they rank just below Utah in pass yards allowed in a game (171). That defense will prove to be a test for Brian Johnson, who has struggled at times this season when the opposing team pressures. Of course, it should be noted the Beavers haven't played a pass oriented offense much at all this season. Stanford opted to run the ball, Penn State is more known for their ground game as well and Mark Sanchez was able to throw for 227 yards, even in a loss. That should bode well for Johnson, bearing in mind he doesn't stumble when pressured.
Another issue with the Beaver defense is their inability to really stop the run. Unlike last year, when Matt Asiata went out, the Utes are a threat on the ground. If for whatever reason Johnson struggles, they can rely on their running game to move the ball. Oregon State gives up 148 yards per game, or more than the Utes average.
Overall, the Beaver defense gives up a total of about 319 yards per game. Which ranks 40th in the nation. That type of defense isn't going to strike fear into Utah's heart, but they are capable of making plays and if Brian Johnson is forced into a couple of turnovers, it could swing the game their way.
This game is a perfect opportunity for Utah's defense, because it provides them the chance to make a statement. But it also gives the Utes offense a chance to play a complete game, something they have not been able to do all season. Though I think the offense has looked fluid most of the year, there have been execution mistakes that have kept them from being scary good. The Beavers' defense offers a good middle ground for Utah, one that isn't too tough, but not too easy, either. If the Utes can put points on the board and defend well, they should win. I know that sounds totally obvious, but it's the truth.
Thursday night, Utah will be facing an opponent fresh off the biggest upset of the season and will be provided a chance for that statement win. While Michigan may prove to be a good victory down the line, when it happened, everyone chalked it up to the Wolverines being a bad team and not Utah being a good one. If the Utes beat Oregon State, it will be a victory framed by their good play and not Oregon State's ineptitude. That is what is on the line here and I expect Utah to take full advantage of it. I also expect a very close game, with Utah pulling out the 35-28 victory.