Through 8 games, Utah is sitting at 6-2 overall and 3-2 in conference, and has exceeded expectations. Back in August their schedule was touted to be one of the most challenging in the nation, and to think that the Utes have swept the So. Cal schools and have won in Michigan and Corvallis, is nothing short of impressive. The beauty of it all, is that even through the offensive struggles, Utah has found a way to win in this conference. Oh yeah, and there is plenty of football left to play, and a lot to play for. This week is another opportunity for Utah to show the conference, and nation, that they are not just a fly-by-night operation. They are well coached, physical and they believe they can win every week against any opponent.
The strength of the Ducks is no secret. Offense, Defense and Speed, Speed, Speed. It will be tough, and Utah will have to show up in every phase of the game, but shooting down the Ducks is not as impossible as some people would have us believe. Here are some things that will help Utah hand Oregon their second loss of the season.
Defense vs. Marcus Mariota
He's the Heisman front runner and pretty much an assassin on the football field. He can kill you with his arm, legs and decision making, but he can be beaten. In Oregon's only loss to the Arizona Wildcats, the Duck gunslinger was sacked 7 times. Pressure came from everywhere that night, and although they were playing back-up offensive tackles, the pass rush proved to be a key cog in the Oregon loss. That's what Utah needs to do, pressure Mariota, and after they've had success, pressure him some more. Oregon is 0-4 when scoring under 30 points and this defense has been very good at keeping teams under their scoring average, if they can do it again, it will be a very good night.
Offense vs. 10 Oregon Defenders
Here's what Utah will see. It's called a "0" coverage. This means that you will get one-on-one coverage on the outside and the safeties will creep up anticipating the run. They saw it from snap one in Tempe last week, and this week will be no different. Utah is going to have to make Oregon pay for their aggression on D. Throwing into the space where the blitz is coming from will pay dividends, because it almost guarantees someone is open. The O-line is going to have to give the QB time, no matter which guy plays. Travis Wilson and/or Kendal Thompson are going to need to stand in the pocket and take some shots. If Utah hopes to get anything going offensively they are going to have to trust each other in every position. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen needs to trust his guys and they in-turn need to trust the coaching staff.
Special Teams vs. Field Position
Kaelin Clay needs to continue the great job he has been doing at putting Utah in favorable positions to score. Tom Hackett will be instrumental in making long fields for Oregon to deal with. Coverage teams will need to stay home, and Andy Phillips has to put last week behind him.
This week, it's going to take a full team effort. Utah is going to need to exorcise some demons on offense and give the D some help. I know it's an unpopular opinion, but Utah can most certainly win this game. Rice-Eccles will be electric once again.
Bring on the Ducks!