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Opponent Preview: Oregon’s Defense

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NCAA Football: Oregon at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Utah’s offense will look drastically different when they hit the field Saturday afternoon after season ending injuries have sidelined both Tyler Huntley and Zack Moss. Quarterback Jason Shelley and running back Armand Shyne will step into larger roles as they try to salvage Utah’s PAC-12 South title dreams. Fortunately, they’ll be facing an Oregon defense that is allowing an average of 27.5 points per game and a rush defense that’s giving up big yards every week. A safe, conservative offensive approach may be enough for the Utes to get the season back on track after a rough week.

Of the two replacement starters, Shelley may be the most comfortable. Oregon’s pass rush is far from prolific, which should bode well for the freshman quarterback who is making his first start for the Utes. Entering this week, the Ducks defense is ranked 64th nationally in total team sacks, totaling 19 on the season, translating to roughly two per game. Digging deeper however, 11 of those sacks came against the likes of Bowling Green, Portland State and San Jose State. Since the start of conference play, opposing quarterbacks have had no problems staying upright against the Ducks with only Stanford and Washington State allowing more than one sack against Oregon. There is however a reason for concern.

Justin Hollins, the 6’5” senior linebacker is a one man wrecking ball and the unquestioned leader of the Ducks defense. Alone, he has accounted for a team high five sacks, and ten tackles for loss. Couple that with 43 total tackles, six pass deflections and one interception and Hollins will need to be contained as much as possible to give Utah’s damaged offense time to find their groove.

If Shelley is able to stay upright, he’ll need to be accurate because Oregon’s secondary is loaded with ball hungry turnover machines. Corners Ugo Amadi and Deommodore Lenior along with safety Jevon Holland gave combined for ten of the Duck’s 13 interceptions in 2018, plus another 13 pass deflections. Utah’s receiving core will likely have the hardest time of any position group on the field this Saturday, meaning a career day from Covey and company may be more important than anything else.

Unlike Shelley, who has seen limited action this season, Shyne has been on the field in every game and has proven himself as a capable running back, averaging 4.48 yards per carry. Oregon’s rush defense is allowing an average of 3.78 yards per rush, good for 42nd best in the nation. Shyne should have no problem gaining chunk yardage against the Ducks. In fact, considering Shyne’s production and Oregon’s manageable rush defense, it’s hard to image Utah’s run-first approach on offense will change much this week despite the personnel change.

Utah’s toughest defensive opponents appear to be behind them this season, which should give fans hope for a PAC-12 Championship berth despite major injuries. Oregon’s defense is good, but not good enough to completely shut the Utes down.