Date & Time: 8:00 August 30th, 2007
TV: FOX Sports Utah
Radio: Kall 700
Location: Corvallis, Oregon
All-time series: Oregon State leads 4-8-1
Last meeting: 1992 (Utah 42, OSU 9)
Utah will kick off its 2007 campaign this Thursday against Oregon State, a team coming off a 10-4 season last year. And while the Beavers will replace some key parts on offense, they will prove to be a very formidable foe for a Utes team trying to put last year's disappointing 8-5 season in their rearview mirror.
Both Oregon State and Utah replace their quarterbacks, as both Brett Ratliff and Matt Moore have graduated. For the Utes, they bring back 2005 starter Brian Johnson, who sat out the 2006 season with a knee injury. The Beavers though don't have a definitive quarterback and it appears, at least for their opener against the Utes, will go with both Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao. The impact on this move will be unknown, but Oregon State's offense should have the weapons necessary to make the transition between both quarterbacks seamless. That was in doubt last week, as it appeared Sammie Stroughter, their All-American candidate wide receiver, would sit out the season indefinitely because of personal problems. Stroughter has returned with the team and is listed day to day, but it's unclear of what role he will play this Thursday.
The success of the Beavers' offense will be their run attack. They return Yvenson Bernard, who is capable of dominating opponents' defensive lines. Bernard is an All-American candidate and will be crucial for the Beavers offense if they are going to have any success against the Utes' inexperienced defense. Canfield will need time to adjust and the Beavers offensive line is a big question mark currently. So their running attack might be their best weapon.
Even though four starters return on Oregon State's o-line, they had a very fickle season last year. If those troubles continue into this year, it could make it very difficult for Canfield to have a good enough game when it comes to sustaining drives and moving the ball down field. And if the Beavers only average 119.5 rushing yards per game, like they did last year, it might not matter how good of a player Yvenson Bernard is, they won't work the ball well enough to be a major threat offensively.
The key for the Beavers offense will most likely come down to their receivers. If they can help Canfield and Moevao adjust, they should easily work Utah's secondary. However, if they struggle, offensive movement might become a problem. To offset the possible offensive problems, Oregon State will most likely rely on its experienced defense and the possibility Utah will have some rust, especially with the fact Brian Johnson hasn't thrown a down in a game since November of 2005 and Matt Asiata -- Utah's probable choice to start against the Beavers -- has yet to play a down at the Division 1-A level.
That Beaver defense though returns enough talent to be improved here. The biggest blow will come in the secondary, where they have to replace Sabby Piscitelli. Their secondary -- like Utah's --- is very questionable and I expect Utah to test it early. Especially when you consider their secondary gave up 2,773 yards through the air last year. That will be a big concern for the Beavers heading into this game, because if Brian Johnson performs at the level he did in 2005, he will be a very precise passer.
But with all their problems in the secondary, the Beavers do have a pretty solid defensive line. Last year they ranked 3rd in the Pac-10 in rushing yards allowed, which could mean trouble for Utah, as their biggest question mark on offense is their running game. If the running game struggles to find an opening against the defensive line of the Beavers, it might turn out to be a long night for the Utes, especially if Johnson has trouble finding his comfort level.
Utah's offense should be good to go though, but it will be the defense that might have growing pains. The secondary wasn't good last year and they now have to find a replacement for Eric Weddle, who graduated. It's also unclear what the defensive line can do and whether the linebackers, a spot that has recently struggled, can step it up. If they falter, it might not matter how poorly Oregon State's offense looks, they will have the weapons to light Utah up. However, if they can step it up and perform to the level of their hype, Utah should at worst stay with the Beavers and at best, defeat them.
Utah wins if... Brian Johnson steps up and returns to his 2005 form, while Matt Asiata lives up to expectations. Utah's offense could overpower Oregon State's defense, but they will need to play a very solid game for that to happen. The weapons are there, but that doesn't mean it will all come together and propel Utah to a victory.
Oregon State wins if... Their offense performs to the level of the talent. With a back like Yvenson Bernard, there is no excuse for the Beavers to not at least have a decent night rushing. If they can't get much on the ground, it could prove too difficult and might signal the Beavers are in for a long season.
Keys for the Utes:
- Stop the run.
- Find a running game.
- Blitz Canfield into submission early.
- Exploit their secondary.