It was the Utes performance last year against the Oregon Ducks that made national heads turn and take a second look at Utah but visions of the last nasty matchup with the Ducks at Rice Eccles are still dancing. This year the Utes are 8-2 while the Ducks find themselves struggling through a rough season at 3-7. Here are three keys to beating the Ducks.
1. Offensive momentum
The Utes are coming off their most complete offensive game of the season against Arizona State with quarterback Troy Williams having his best game thus far as a Ute last week versus the Sun Devils. This week the Utah offense could possibly be facing the worst defense they have encountered this season with Oregon ranking in the bottom of the PAC 12 defensively in nearly every statistic. The Ducks have allowed 27 passing touchdowns and 32 rushing touchdowns. This should provide the offensive line with the tools they need to give Troy Williams with the opportunity to continue expanding his confidence in the passing game and allow Joe Williams to break 1000 yards.
2. Steady Oregon’s offensive talent
After switching up their starting quarterback position midway through the season the Ducks have seen improvement. Oregon moved on from senior transfer quarterback Dakota Prukop, who threw for 1,173 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions in five games to freshman and Oregon native, Justin Herbert who has thrown for 1,432 yards, 15 touchdowns and four interceptions over the last six games. The numbers between the two quarterbacks are not drastic but Herbert is a dual quarterback that has given the Ducks a sign of life in the worst season they have had in years and hope for future seasons. The Ducks split time between two running backs, junior standout Royce Freeman and sophomore Tony Brooks-James. Together the two combine for over 1,300 yards with Freeman accounting for nine touchdowns and Brooks-James with eight. Freeman has struggled through some injuries with only 129 carries this season so far compared to last season where he finished with 283 attempts for 1836 yards. Last week against Stanford, Oregon head coach Helfrich said Freeman was running harder than he had seen this season. Another offensive player to keep your eyes on for the Ducks is junior wide receiver, Charles Nelson who leads the team with 47 receptions, 501 yards and four touchdowns. If the Utes defense wants to contain this talent it will need to put up a similar performance to last week with relentless pressure on the quarterback and contain the running game.
3. Beat the nothing to lose mentality
Head coach Kyle Whittingham said it best in one of his first comments to media when he sat down for his weekly press conference on Monday, “All of our attention is on the Ducks this week. There’s not a chance at all that we’ll look past those guys. They’re very talented on offense. I mean, they’re Oregon.” On the surface this 3-7 Oregon team looks severely broken and a shell of what the Ducks have acclaimed nationally but anyone would be amiss to look past this team full of talent. At this point the Ducks have their hands tied and are unable to salvage their season by making it to a bowl game. Essentially they have nothing to lose and what better way to handle that than shutting down the twelfth ranked Utes. Utah has got to focus on beating the team in front of them and not allowing themselves to overlook Oregon by moving forward to what could be.
If Utah has learned anything in their tenure in the PAC 12 it’s to never count any team out especially the Oregon Ducks. To get a win today for the Utes means one more regular season game and a chance to finally win the south out right.