When the Utes have the ball
The Travis Wilson era enters week two and there are just as many unknowns about the offense as there was last week. Are the Utes a passing team? Are they a running team? There is no identity, which makes everything a wild-card. Travis Wilson has ability, that much is apparent, he can make some good throws and he is mobile. Oregon State's defense is a step up from UCLA's and Wilson may be under more pressure against the Beavers than ever before.
John White IV has been talked about quite a lot this week. Everyone is wondering where the Wolfman has gone after so much success in 2011. I think this is the week where the Wolfman will finally get his feed, expect to see John White IV get 20+ carries this week. Kelvin York is another Ute that hasn't been used enough and could potentially see double-digit carries for the first time this season. If the Utes are going to win I think John White IV and Kelvin York need to rush for around 200 yards. The Utes need to eat clock and keep Oregon State's offense out of a groove.
It will be interesting to see who the Beavers put Jordan Poyer on, my guess is Dres Anderson. Poyer has the ability to take over a game from the cornerback position, and therefore Travis Wilson and the Utes will need to find targets other than Dres. Kenneth Scott, Devonte Christopher, Anthony Denham, Jake Murphy, and Reggie Dunn need to step up and make plays. I expect Kenneth Scott and Jake Murphy to take advantage of mediocre safeties in the middle for Oregon State.
At the end of the night, a Utes victory will only be possible if the offensive line steps up in a major way. They have yet to put together a consistent 4 quarters, without blown assignments, stupid penalties, and 60 minutes of toughness. Against the Beavers Brenner and Stevens are going to have to dominate at the line of scrimmage, and JT, Miles Mason, and Poutasi are going to have to play a solid game.
When Oregon State Has the Ball:
Oregon State's offense is well balanced, built around a terrific down-field passing attack with an effective run game mixed in. The Beavers do a great job of running the ball to set up the pass game and have play-makers all around the offense that they use to keep teams off balance. Oregon State isn't afraid to pass the ball on first down and they're not afraid to throw deep. They have speedsters on the outside and use them to effectively stretch the defense before hitting teams with a powerful rush attack consisting of a talented freshman running back and fast, play-making receivers who can beat teams on the ground around the edges.
When it was announced that starting sophomore quarterback Sean Mannion would miss games due to a knee injury, many were quick to write the Beavers off in their game against BYU. Cody Vaz was an unproven junior who had been with the program for years but had not been able to break into the starting lineup. Last Saturday Vaz proved to be more than just your average backup as he torched the highly-touted Cougar defense for 332 yards and 3 touchdowns on 63% passing. He showed moxy, pocket presence, and an ability to deliver a deep ball to his talented wide receivers and earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors in his first collegiate start. He'll be a handful for the Utes to deal with and will need to be pressured early and often if the Utes want to contain him and his arm.
Wideout Markus Wheaton is deadly. He's a big-time target with game-changing abilities who has strung together an impressive 28-game reception streak. He's fast and has a change-of-direction speed as good as any receiver in the conference. Last week against BYU Wheaton caught 5 balls for 66 yards and scored two touchdowns through the air. He's not just an airborne threat though as he is often used in the run game on sweeps and reverse plays that utilize his speed and vision. On the season Wheaton has 8 carries for 47 yards (4.5/carry) and 1 touchdown.
If you saw Beaver running back Storm Woods leave last week's game in the fourth quarter due to injury and were hopeful the talented freshman would miss this week's game – think again. It turns out Woods received a bone bruise that hasn't slowed him down this week in practice and it's expected the back will be 100% by game time. That's not good news for Utah. Woods really burst onto the scene three weeks ago against Arizona when he rushed for a career-high 161 yards and a touchdown. He is the team's leading rusher averaging 80.8 yards per game and is a great receiver out of the backfield. He's a powerful downhill runner with good speed who will make players pay when they confront him in the open field.
On defense, Utah's all-world nose tackle Star Lotulelei will have a favorable matchup. He'll be facing off against true freshman center Isaac Seumalo who may not see another defensive lineman this talented for the rest of his college career. Seumalo's inexperience will likely draw help from at least one teammate which means the rest of the Ute line will need to step up and make some plays. Last week against UCLA Lotulelei was often the target of triple-team blocks, yet the Bruin's quarterback was allowed to run wild. Utah's defensive ends need to keep contain this week and make sure Cody Vaz is pressured but not allowed to escape the pocket.
Utah hasn't started the same three linebackers in back-to-back weeks since games one and two. The inconsistency in starters and leaders at the position has helped create what is now Utah's weakest defensive position group. Utah's older, more experienced linebackers seem too slow to keep up with the speedy Pac-12 talent they're facing while Utah's younger, faster linebackers have often shown to be too inexperienced to be consistently effective. This unit will be vital this weekend and must have a better showing than they had at UCLA last weekend or the result of the game may not be much different. Oregon State will run right at this unit and they'll try to run around them. They'll use creative blocking schemes to get Storm Woods to the second level where Utah has been weakest. Oregon State plays well in space so smart play and sound tackling will be a must.
Finally, Utah's play at the safety position will likely have the biggest impact on whether or not the Utes can stay in this game. Eric Rowe and Brian Blechen will likely be tested deep more times in this game than in any other game this year. Oregon State loves to throw the ball down the field and they were successful last week because the BYU Cougar safeties (and corners) couldn't handle the speed and athleticism of the OSU receivers. Utah can't fall victim to the same fate. Utah loves to play with Blechen in the box and has done it many times this season but they'll need to be careful this week as leaving one high safety could be disastrous.
Honestly this game could go a lot of different ways. Oregon State has the potential to come out and blow Utah away. Utah has the potential to fix a few things on offense and defense and really surprise the Beavers. So will we see either of the extremes? Not likely. Instead, we'll probably see something in the middle of the two, which will likely be play similar to what we've seen from Utah over the last few weeks. The offense may be improved, but I have little faith that the penalties and mental mistakes will be cleaned up. If they could be, it would have happened in a game before now. They'll probably drive the length of the field for a score once or twice but the bulk of their third down attempts will go unconverted and the punter will be a key attribute to the Ute defensive attack. When it comes to defense, they'll prove tough but will give up a big play or two and ultimately the difference in the game will be a few mental mistakes, missed coverages, and a penalty or two.
At the end of the day the Oregon State Beavers just have too many weapons and too much experience for the Utes. Utah will hang in there for a half but by the end of the game the Beavers will prove to be the better team.
Final Score Oregon State 31 Utah 20
Game Preview: Utah at Oregon State
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