The high-flying Oregon Ducks offense lands on Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday afternoon. Both the Utes and Ducks are in dire, must-win situations if they hope to keep their division title hopes alive, and with their highly touted quarterback, Justin Herbert at the helm for Oregon, fans will likely be treated to an exciting game if anything else.
In his junior season, Herbert has impressed NFL scouts enough that he’s projected by many to be the first QB picked in the upcoming draft, and it’s not hard to see why. At 6’6”, 233 lbs, Herbert’s frame is built for the NFL. Couple that with solid arm strength, poise inside the pocket and mobile feet, the rising star has all the qualities of a Sunday quarterback. Utah’s defense has faced several talented QBs this season between Gardner Minshew, Manny Wilkins and JT Daniels, but none seem to be as complete and competent as Herbert who currently carries a 59.2% completion rating with 22 touchdowns and only six interceptions on the year.
On the ground, freshman CJ Verdell leads a crop of talented running backs that includes fellow freshman Travis Dye and senior Tony Brooks-James. The trio makes for one of the best running threats in the PAC-12, each averaging nearly five yards per carry. Verdell leads the group with 140 attempts and 690 yards and five touchdowns, nearly doubling Dye’s total production of 74 carries for 351 yards and two touchdowns. While Brooks-James’ production is significantly less, getting only 52 carries in 2018, he’s made good use of his limited time on the field, rushing for 293 total yards and finding the end zone on four different occasions. After last week’s meltdown in Tempe, stopping this gaggle of backs is going to be critical if the Utes hope to win out and make their way to the conference championship.
As you might imagine, with Herbert controlling the passing attack, a core of receiving options will make their presence known Saturday afternoon. Leading the way is junior Dillon Mitchell with 56 grabs (including six touchdowns) and 833 yards to his name in 2018. Mitchell displays good down-field vision and his sticky hands are as reliable as you’ll find in the PAC-12. The chemistry between Herbert and Mitchell is on par with that of Manny Wilkins and N’Keal Harry, who successfully carved up Utah’s secondary last week, meaning Utah’s secondary will gain be tested.
Joining Mitchell downfield are sophomore Jaylon Redd, junior Brenden Schooler and junior tight end Jacob Breeland. Together, they have combined for 58 catches and 732 yards, making Mitchell the number one target to shut down in the passing game. As a solid WR2, Redd’s 22 catches have gone for 275 yards, but 21.7% of his grabs finish in the end zone, making him a deadly scoring threat.
Oregon has been a dominant force in a surprisingly crowded PAC-12 North race, but road has not been kind to the Ducks who are 1-2 thus far when leaving the friendly confines of Autzen Stadium, with their only road win coming against a struggling Cal team. Ute fans can only hope those road woes continue this Saturday.