Utah begins the second half of their season this Saturday on the road, in Corvallis Oregon, where they will take on the 2-3 Oregon State Beavers. One time Utah defensive coordinator, Gary Anderson, is now in his second season as the head coach for the Beavers and slowly but surely seems to be righting the ship up in Corvallis. The Beavers won their first conference game since Anderson’s arrival last week, a 47-44 overtime thriller. The forecast for Saturday’s game is wet and windy, the kind of weather where defenses win ball games. With that in mind, let’s examine Oregon State’s defense ahead of Saturday’s contest.
Oregon State is not a very good team, in fact they might very well be the worst team in the Pac-12 despite last week’s win. Their defense is a big reason why they are not very good, ranking near the bottom of the Pac-12 in most categories.
We’ll start with total defense, where the Beavers give up a healthy 431.8 yards per game. Teams have been able to move the ball against the Beavers, which is good news for a beat up Utah offense. Speaking of which, if there was ever a game to break in a new starting running back (or old in the case of Joe Williams), the Beavers defense is not a bad unit to go against, ranking 10th in the conference in rushing defense, giving up 224 yards per game. They also rank 10th in the conference, allowing 5.35 yards per rush.
One area where the Beaver defense has performed better is in pass defense, ranking 4th in the Pac-12 and only allowing 207 yards passing a game. Aside from getting torched by Colorado, Oregon State has held all other opponents below 300 yards passing. The Beaver defense also has more interceptions this year (5) than passing touchdowns allowed (4). On a blustery fall day like Saturday it might be tricky to throw the ball, making Joe Williams return at running back for the Utes all the more important.
The Beavers run a 3-4 defense, meaning most formations will feature only three down lineman. Defensive end Baker Pritchard (6-3 272 lbs.) a junior from South Jordan Utah, leads the group with 14 tackles, 1 tackle for a loss and 1 sack. Redshirt freshman Elu Aydon is the nose tackle, and a big one, coming in at 6-3, 327 lbs. Aydon has 9 tackles and a tackle for a loss. Sumner Houston (6-2, 289 lbs.), Kalani Vakameilalo (6-3, 311 lbs.) and Phillip Napolean (6-4, 284 lbs.) will also see plenty of playing time. The defensive line has struggled to provide pressure this year accounting for only 1.5 sacks combined. The improvement of Utah’s offensive line in recent weeks gives the Utes a decided advantage here.
The Beavers rely on their linebackers to make a lot of plays. The way the defense is set up, the defensive lineman primarily take on blockers and allow the linebackers to flow to the football. The problem is Oregon State’s defensive line is pretty weak, so most of the plays the linebackers make are well beyond the line of scrimmage. In order for the Beavers to win, their linebackers need to play mistake free football.
Senior Inside linebacker Caleb Saulo (6-1, 235 lbs.) leads the team with 39 tackles and is the leader of the group. On the outside, sophomore Bright Ugwoegbu (6-2, 226 lbs.) brings the pressure, leading the team with 2.5 sacks, and 5.5 tackles for a loss. Other linebackers to be aware of are Manase Hungalu (6-1, 232 lbs.) and Titus Failauga (6-3, 249).
The secondary doesn’t have a lot of depth, but is the most talented position group on the defense. Senior conerback Treston Decoud (6-3, 208 lbs.) leads the team with two interceptions including a pick six. Joining DeCoud in the secondary is fellow senior safety Devin Chappell (6-2, 203 lbs.) with an interception and 6 passes defended.
There is quite a bit of young up and coming talent in the secondary as well, such as freshman cornerback Xavier Crawford (6-1 188 lbs.) who leads the team with 7 pass breakups and sophomore cornerback Dwayne Williams (5-9, 180 lbs.) Outside of Oregon State’s game against Colorado, the defensive backs have been the best part of a poor Oregon State defense. That being said, Utah receivers probably still have the advantage especially if Tim Patrick is able to return this week.
Another week, another seemingly weak defense for the Utah offense to challenge. If Utah can clean up the penalties that plagued them against Arizona last week, Utah should be able to move the ball. If Joe Williams is in any condition to play, this could be the perfect game to get his football legs back. With a stormy forecast, expect Utah to take advantage of the Beaver’s poor run defense and try and get out of Corvallis without any more injuries.