Oregon State at Utah - Game Preview

The Utah Utes hit host conference foe Oregon State on Saturday.

Facts and Factors:
Utah (3-4, 0-4 Pac-12) hosts Oregon State (2-5, 2-2 Pac-12) on Saturday, Oct. 29 in the annual Blackout game. Kickoff is 5 p.m. MT in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Utah and OSU have played two common opponents this season in Brigham Young and Arizona State. Utah went 1-1, beating BYU (54-10 in Provo) and losing to ASU (35-14 in SLC). The Beavers were 0-2, losing to BYU (38-28 in Corvallis) and to ASU (35-20 in Tempe).

The last matchup between these two teams featured the No. 15-ranked Utes who made a late comeback to knock off an Oregon State team that had upset No. 1 USC the previous week. All-American Louie Sakoda kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired in a 31-28 Ute win on Oct. 2, 2008 in Rice-Eccles Stadium.

Oregon State leads the series 9-5-1, but Utah has won three of the last four including the last two in Salt Lake City (1992 and 2008). Oregon State leads 4-3 in Salt Lake City.

When Utah has the ball:
Utah's offense enters Saturday's matchup with Oregon State with a reputation as one of the worst offenses in America. In 4 PAC-12 games this season, Utah is averaging just 13 points per game. As a group, Utah ranks 108th in the nation in total offense (out of 120). The Utes also rank 110th in red zone offense, and 104th in 3rd down conversions. Turnovers have been a major problem for the Utes in losses, having turned the ball over 17 times on the year (100th in nation).

On defense, the Beavers are allowing over 30 points per game, and appear to be quite vulnerable. Oregon State is stronger against the run that against the pass, allowing 145 yards per game rushing to opponents (54th in nation), while ranking 106th in pass efficiency defense. OSU must do a better job of avoiding penalties. The Beavers have averaged 77 yards per game in penalties, the most in the nation. OSU has allowed 21 first downs via penalty this season. From a defensive perspective, this matchup is very favorable to Oregon State.

At quarterback for the Utes, Jon Hays will take the field for the 4th game as Utah's starting QB (1-2, 0-1 at home). Hays has completed 57.6% of his passes on the season. Utah's ability to pass the ball against Oregon State will be critical. If Hays and the Utes cannot attack the OSU secondary, the offense will once again struggle. Hays is averaging 0.85 touchdown passes per game for the Utes and 2 interceptions per game (3.5 games). If Hays and the Utes can take better care of the ball, and establish some sort of offensive presence, the task at hand for the Utes will become significantly more reasonable.

For the Utes, RB John White IV has been arguably the most valuable offensive player on the season up to this point. White has averaged 101 yards rushing per game this season, despite below average offensive line play, and not much help from the quarterback and receivers. White is Utah's leader in touchdowns with 8 total TDs on the season. Last game against Cal, White found very little room to work, as the Bears loaded the box with 8 defenders, making it nearly impossible to run the ball. Utah will need to be more creative in how they get the ball to White, and will need to use a variety of traps, screens, delays, and other wrinkles. White remains Utah's top available playmaker, and will need to get the ball in more space to have an impact against the Beavers.

At Wide Receiver, Utah played last week without WR Devonte Christopher, who leads the team in receiving yards (351), receptions (23), and yards per reception (15.3). Christopher is expected to rejoin the Utes on Saturday, and will instantly become a go-to target for the inexperienced Hays. Christopher's presence should also help WRs Dres Anderson and Reggie Dunn, who had struggled to shoulder the role as Utah's leading receivers. Both players were much more successful in supporting roles opposite of Christopher. At Tight End, Utah will look to freshman Jake Murphy to step up and fill the role that was previously occupied by Dallin Rogers, who hurt his knee and will miss the remainder of the season.

While quarterback play has been the least productive position for the Utes, Offensive Line has underperformed more than any other position group when compared to expectations. Senior Tackles John Cullen and Tony Bergstrom have struggled with inconsistency. As a unit, Utah has allowed 20 sacks on the season, ranking 99th in America, and 11th in the PAC-12. Junior Guard Sam Brenner has been the best performer for the Utes to date, while the other guard position appears to be in flux, as Junior College transfer Miles Mason continues to lose playing time to Sophomore converted DT Latu Heimuli. The Utes may need to lean on their running game, which is a scary thought for fans, as Utah ranks 104th in rushing offense, and 108th in total offense.

On the defensive line, the Beavers are thin and undersized. Freshmen Dylan Wynn (6'2, 240) and Scott Crichton (6'3, 258) will start at defensive end, while Senior Kevin Frahm (6'2, 281) and Junior Andrew Seumalo (6'3, 281) will hold down the interior of the Beaver Defense. Crichton is 3rd on the team in tackles with 42 on the season, and is first in the PAC-12 in Tackles For Loss with 10, while Wynn has recovered 5 fumbles on the season. Castro Masaniai had been the starter at DT before suffering a broken leg against BYU, and will miss the remainder of the season.

At linebacker, Oregon State will be thinner than normal, as it was recently learned that their second leading tackler on the team, Feti Unga, will miss the game due to injury. Cameron Collins and Michael Doctor are both capable players at LB, and Doctor leads the team in tackles with an impressive 45 stops on the season. Collins injured his groin against BYU, and is questionable to play against Utah. Junior LB Tony Wilson started in place of the injured Unga last week at Washington State and has 6 starts on his career, but has only managed 3 tackles on the season. Rueben Robinson will also play a big role for the Beavers on defense, providing some semblance of depth.

As was mentioned prior, Oregon State has proven most vulnerable this season against the pass. In the secondary, Jordan Pryor will likely draw the assignment of defending DeVonte Christopher. Pryor hasn't been consistent, this season, but has shown flashes of big play ability, intercepting 3 passes on the season, and knocking down 10 others. Opposing QBs often test Pryor as well as Rashaad Reynolds. Reynolds started the season as the 3rd CB on the roster, but replaced starter Brandon Hardin after he went down with injury. Nick Martin is another contributor at CB that has been injured of late and limited as a result. After the injury to Hardin, Martin played a key role as the 3rd CB, but has missed the last 4 games due to injury. At safety, Anthony Watkins will make his 6th career start, and is another "potential" guy that has struggled with injuries and inconsistency. Observers rave about his potential, but he hasn't come close to living up to that potential at this point of his career. Safety Lance Mitchell is the best player in the Beaver secondary, but has also been limited due to injury. Mitchell missed the BYU game due to injury, and his presence as a playmaker and as a leader on the field was sorely missed.

When Oregon State has the ball:
Oregon State has a reputation as a very young offense, with quite a bit of talent. The Beavers will likely start 4 freshmen at skill positions on offense. The Beavers have been most dangerous this season through the air, averaging 297.3 yards per game passing as a team (17th in the nation). On the ground it's been tough going for OSU, where they have managed just 112.3 rushing yards per game (105th in the nation).

The Utes will bring a very productive defense to the field on Saturday. Utah ranks 15th in the nation in rush defense, 27th in total defense, 24th in turnovers gained, and 31st in red zone defense. The Achilles heel of this year's Utah defense is their ability to get off the field on 3rd down, and stay off the field.

Freshman QB Sean Mannion has grown by leaps and strides for Oregon State this season, completing 66% of his passes on the season for an average of 280 yards/game. Mannion has thrown a respectable 9 touchdown passes on the year with 10 interceptions. Mannion is coming off of the best game of his young career. Against Washington State, Mannion went 26/34 for 376 yards and 4 touchdowns.

At Running Back, the Beavers will feature freshman Malcolm Agnew. Agnew has missed 4 games due to injury this season, but finally has his feet back under him. In the 3 games Agnew has played this season, has ran for an average of 125 yards per game (5.7 per rush). Agnew's backup, Jovan Stevenson will miss the game with an injury.

The biggest weapon on the Oregon State offense is unquestionably Junior WR Markus Wheaton. The incredibly talented wide receiver has 647 receiving yards on the season, but is still searching for his first touchdown of the season. Jordan Bishop will also get a lot of balls thrown his way. Inside the red zone, Senior H-Back Joe Halahuni seems to be a favorite target of Mannion. Halahuni has 3 TD receptions on the season.

On the offensive line, Senior Mike Remmers leads the veteran group. The Beavers OLine features 3 Seniors in Remmers, Grant Johnson, and Burke Ellis. Oregon State has only allowed 1.29 sacks per game (27th in America). Much of Mannion's success through the air can be contributed to this veteran group. On the ground, the Beavers are struggling mightily.

The Utah defensive line has earned a reputation as a big, physical group that will commit to stopping the run. The inconsistency with this group has come in pass rush situations. Utah has struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks with their front four. Star Lotulelei has been tremendous for this group, and Derrick Shelby has emerged as a legitimate threat at Defensive End.

At linebacker, a group that was once deep with talented players is now thinner than it has been all season. Sophomore Brian Blechen was moved back to Safety, and Junior Boo Anderson suffered a season ending knee injury last week. Trevor Reilly has been the big play guy for Utah's defense, picking up 6 sacks on the season, 10 Tackles For Loss, and 4 forced fumbles. Chaz Walker has been a tackling machine, picking up 58 tackles on the season. Matt Martinez has been solid for the Utes, and J.J. Williams will fill a bigger role as a key reserve.

In the secondary, Utah will face yet another challenge in Markus Wheaton. For the Utes, Conroy Black has had a very nice season. Converted WR Mo Lee has shown steady signs of progress, and has overtaken Ryan Lacy as the starter opposite of Black, though Lacy has moved into the starting position at Nickel Back. Converted linebacker Brian Blechen brings a physicality to the secondary that was lacking. Blechen has 49 tackles on the season, ranking 2nd on the team. True Freshman Eric Rowe has been solid playing center field for the Utes.

Special Teams:
Utah kicker Coleman Peterson has been decent for the Utes, making 9 of 11 field goals on the season. Peterson has been downright awful at times this fall, but has come on of late. The Utes continue to use a dual-punter system, alternating between Nick Marsh and Sean Sellwood depending upon situation. On kickoffs, the Utes have been very strong in coverage. Utah ranks 13th in the nation in kickoff coverage, even more impressive given the Pitt disaster. Utah has also been strong in punt coverage, ranking 36th in the nation in punt return coverage.

In the return game, Reggie Dunn has started to live up to high expectations as a kick returner. Dunn is averaging 25.4 yards per return, with a long of 45. Next to Dunn, true freshman Quenton Pedroza will make his debut returning kicks. The sure-handed Griff McNabb will continue to return punts for the Utes.

As disconcerting as Utah's kicking game has been, Oregon State has had their own fair share of troubles. Trevor Romaine is 12 for 17 on the season. At punter, Johnny Hekker is a clone of Utah's punters statistically.

In the return game, Jordan Pryor has been solid for the Beavers, averaging 23 yards per return, with a long of 57. Next to Pryor will be Malcolm Marable, who has been consistently good for OSU, with an average of 25.2 and a long of 37.

Intangibles:
The injuries are stacking up for both schools. Starters Jordan Wynn (QB), Dallin Rogers (TE) and reserves Charles Henderson (WR/PR), Boo Anderson (LB) and Keith McGill (S) will be out for the remainder of the season. WR DeVonte Christopher is probable, while Tauni Vakapuna (RB), and Jacoby Hale (LB) are questionable.

Weather forecasts for Saturday predict a high of 60 with a low of 40, 20% chance of showers.

Utah finally returns home after racking up the frequent flier miles by traveling to the west coast to take on Pitt, then back to the west coast to take on Cal. Meanwhile, Oregon State will hit the road for the second straight week. With Stanford looming next weekend, the Beavers are emphasizing taking things one game at a time.

Prediction:
Utah 23, Oregon State 17

The Utes will get a big boost from the return of DeVonte Christopher, and will show some signs of life on offense after taking a few weeks off. Utah's defense will produce a few takeaways, and will give the offense good field position. If Utah can limit their turnovers, they should win.

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