Last week provided the thrills for PAC-12 football, thanks to Oregon State and Utah. After the Beavers pulled off the upset over their arch rivals from Eugene on Friday night, it looked as though the conference’s chances to sneak a team into the College Football Playoff were dashed, but Utah’s second half collapse in Seattle opened the door for the Huskies to potentially take the Ducks’ place as the PAC-12’s playoff darling. Now these two teams are poised to take the field this weekend in what is sure to be another #PAC12AfterDark thriller.
With two teams on entirely different trajectories (the 2-2 Beavers have back-to-back wins, including the upset over Oregon, while Utah has failed to notch a win so far in 2020), it’s easy to assume OSU might be a slight favorite against the Utes, but the oddsmakers seem to think otherwise, giving Utah an -11 point edge, with ESPN’s Matchup Predictor giving the home team a 74.2% chance of notching their first victory of the season. A big reason for that may be due to an unfortunate change at quarterback for the Beavers.
During the final and ultimately game-winning drive of the game, junior QB Tristan Gebbia attempted a quarterback sneak to find the end zone, coming up a yard short. Immediately after the play, Gebbia collapsed to the ground, and was later carried off the field by his teammates, clearly avoiding any pressure to his leg. Head coach Jonathan Smith confirmed this week that the injury is worse than previously thought, though failed to provide further details outside of ruling the junior out for this week, if not the remainder of the season. In his place will likely be redshirt sophomore Chance Nolan (6’3”, 200 lbs.), whose only action as a Beaver came on a direct snap that was carried for a one-yard touchdown in relief of the injured Gebbia, and securing last week’s dramatic victory.
A three-star recruit in high school, Nolan originally landed at Middle Tennessee, where he redshirted for a season before transferring to OSU this year, landing in an offense that matches his skill set as a pro style passer. Possessing a strong, accurate arm, Nolan set school records at Paloma Valley High School, passing for 9,000 yards and 104 touchdown passes, but is a threat on the ground as well, with a highlight reel worth of tape showcasing his rushing ability. Considering how well Utah’s defense was able to pressure Washington’s inexperienced quarterback for the better part of three quarters last week, Nolan will need to demonstrate patience and composure if he hopes to keep Oregon State’s win streak alive.
Taking pressure off Nolan will be Jermar Jefferson. The 5’10”, 217 lb. junior running back has rushed for an impressive 675 yards on 91 attempts, accounting for 33% of all offensive plays for the Beavers this season, all while averaging 7.4 yards per rush, with seven touchdowns, good for 46.66% of all Beaver TDs. Jefferson’s 226 yard performance last week was his most productive since notching 254 yards against Arizona State on September 29, 2018, a number the talented rusher failed to come close to throughout the 2019 season, but all signs point to Jefferson having a bounce-back year.
Utah’s chances of pulling off a winning season hinge on a strong defensive effort against a talented, yet vulnerable Oregon State offense. With an undefeated Colorado and a yet-to-be determined north division opponent still on the horizon, time is short to right what looks to be a slowly sinking ship.