Game Preview: Utah vs Oregon State

A preview of the Utes' first Pac 12 game of the season, against the Beavers from Oregon State

When Utah Has The Ball

The past two weeks have been a sight for sore eyes for fans, coaches and even players when it comes to the offense, as Utah seems to have finally found some production on that side of the ball, after two years of lackluster offensive performances. The key to that productive offense has been a combination of consistency from QB Travis Wilson, and an experienced play caller in Dennis Erickson. Travis Wilson is coming off the best two week stretch of his short Utah playing career, and he'll look to continue that hot streak against an Oregon State defense that has struggled to perform up to expectations thus far. Although Wilson has put some very impressive numbers in the past two weeks, (566 yards, 66% completions, 5 TD's & 2 rushing TD's) the biggest improvement in Wilson's game has been his decision making. In two games, Wilson has yet to throw an interception, and really has yet to make even a bad decision. If Wilson can keep making good decisions, it will bode well for Utah's season and bowl hopes.

When looking at the Oregon State defense, you see a defense that is not living up to expectations, and is missing a lot of personnel due to injuries and academics. The Oregon State defense took a big hit this past week when senior linebacker Michael Doctor was hurt against Hawaii. Doctor led the team in tackles in 2012 and was a team captain. The loss of Doctor will be a huge loss for a line backing crew that was already thin to begin with. The defensive line for OSU isn't much prettier however, as the Beavers are severely thin at DT, where they were expecting to have four junior college transfers contribute, but only one of the four joined the team, due to academics. Scott Crichton is the big name on the defensive line, as he is a strong pass rusher that is able to get after the quarterback. The secondary for the Beavers also leaves something to be desired, as they've given up an average of 309 passing yards in two weeks, including 411 yards and 4 TD's to FCS opponent Eastern Washington in week one. When you look at the injuries at linebacker, the lack of depth on the defensive line and struggling secondary, that all combines for a very lack luster defense that the Utes should be able to take advantage of.

As for what the Utes will do on offense, I'd expect to see more of Jake Murphy and Westlee Tonga on Saturday, in order to take advantage of the young and depleted linebacker group. Tonga and Murphy have had a very quiet first two games, due in large part to Utah State focusing on them, and then they simply weren't needed against Weber State. Coach Whitt has now two weeks in row acknowledged that they need to get the tight ends more involved in the offense, and this is the perfect week to do that. If the Utes are able to convert short to medium ranged passes to Murphy, Tonga and even Anthony Denham in the slot, it will open up the deep pass game as those safeties will start to creep up to defend the tight ends and the short passes. When looking at the run game, a lot fans are disappointed with the production from the starting running backs and offensive line, and rightfully so. Against Utah State the offensive line struggled to open running lanes, and the following week against Weber State, the starting running backs lacked the explosiveness that was expected from them. With the Utes facing a thin defensive line this week, look for the Utes to try and pound the ball inside the guards and center, in order to try and tire out the Oregon State defensive line. The running offense as whole will need to have a better game this Saturday, as they must be able run the ball effectively in order to give Travis Wilson time in the pocket to find his open receivers.

When Oregon State Has The Ball

After a year of flip flopping between quarterbacks Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, the Beavers appear to finally have settled on one QB, and a good one at that. Sean Mannion has been extremely impressive in his first two games this year, as he's currently averaging 397 yards passing, 3.5 TD's, 0.5 INT's and a 79.1% completion percentage. Those are some eye popping numbers, but it's also important to know that those numbers came against a FCS team and a Hawaii team that currently ranks 93rd in the country in pass efficiency defense. Even so, Mannion will present a sizable test for a Utah secondary that is inexperienced, which showed against Utah State and Chuckie Keeton. Another threat to the Utah secondary is Mannion's favorite receiver, Brandin Cooks. Cooks is small (5'10-185) but has elite speed, and uses that speed to get behind the safeties and corners. Cooks, who has 288 yards and 4 TD's through 2 games, will be a huge test for the Utah corners to cover one on one, and look for the safeties to shade over to Cooks side to try and take away his big play ability.

The biggest thing that goes in the Utes favor when looking at Mannion and the Oregon State pass game, is the fact that he is not at all a "dual threat" quarterback. Mannion is a straight drop back pocket passing QB that will stand tall in the pocket. Because Mannion doesn't provide a running threat to the Utah defense, the Utes defensive line should be able to pin their ears back and get after Mannion in the pocket, in order to make him uncomfortable and throw him off his game. While the Oregon State offensive line has done a good job of protecting Sean Mannion against sub-par competition, the Beaver's offensive line is facing some major injuries that will force them to play with a pretty bare cupboard. Starting right guard Roman Sapolu and starting right tackle Grant Enger both were injured against Hawaii, and both will not be able to play against Utah. To try and combat those injuries, Oregon State has move starting center Isaac Seumalo out to right tackle, sophomore Josh Mitchell will replace Seumalo at center, and redshirt freshman Grant Bays will make his first collegiate start at right guard. With a re-tooled offensive line that has a lot of youth on it, the Oregon State offensive line is a major liability at this point, and is something that Utah should be able to take advantage of in a big way when it comes to getting a pass rush.

The run game for Oregon State has been disappointing thus far, as the Beavers are averaging only 83 rush yards a game, which is good enough for 117th in the country. The problems have mostly lied with the offensive line, as they've struggled to get a push in the trenches, in order to open holes for the talented Storm Woods. Don't expect the Beavers to present a big challenge in the run game, especially considering they're re-tooling the right side of their offensive line. Because Oregon State has been struggling in the run game, while excelling in the pass game, look for the offense to do something a little more unconventional than a normal pro style, play action pass offense. Normally, a team will set up the play action pass with the run game, but look for the OSU offense to do just the opposite. Mannion is going to try and test the Ute's secondary early by going deep off of play action, in order to try and get the linebackers and secondary to play a little deeper, which will open up the run game, as well as screens to the runningback. If Utah's defensive line is able to get constant pressure on Mannion and make him uncomfortable, it will make an already one dimensional offense, even more one dimensional, as it will essentially shut down the run game at the same time.

Tenny Palepoi, Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly will be relied on to not only get pressure on Mannion, but maintain a dominating presence up the middle. If those 3, along with the other rotating defensive tackles are able to get pressure on Mannion by themselves, it will take a lot of pressure off of free safety Eric Rowe and the rest of the Utah secondary. With improved linebacker play from V.J. Fehoko, Jacoby Hale and Jared Norris, the Utes should be just fine in covering the Oregon State tight ends and running backs, but the biggest key to the Utes' defense being successful will be the corners and safeties. Since Brandin Cooks has elite speed, I'd expect the Utes to try and cover Cooks with the combination of Davion Orphey and Reginald Porter. Orphey and Porter may be the quickest corners on the Ute defense, and so they'll be asked to guard the future NFL wide receiver. If the Utes are able to hold Cooks to around 100 yards receiving and only 1 touchdown, that will be huge accomplishment and will almost certainly mean that they should win the game.

Utah Will Win If.....

Gorringe-They make Mannion uncomfortable. Utah's secondary is facing a big test, but if the D Line gets constant pressure on Mannion, they'll win.
Karren-They take care of the ball and keep stupid mistakes to a minimum. Turnovers and penalties that extend OSU drives will keep the Beavers in the game. If the Utes can limit those mistakes as well as finish drives - especially in the red zone - they should come out on top.
Olson- They can win the battle in the trenches. With the injuries on the offensive line for the Beavers, Utah's D-line should be able to put a lot of pressure on Mannion and force some bad decisions. Poutasi and the rest of the O-line need to play up to their ability, as they have struggled to be consistent throughout the season thus far.
Swinney-They can get pressure on Sean Mannion. Sacks aren't a necessity, but pressure on Mannion and making him get rid of the ball early will help the corners. If the defensive line can't help out Utah's cornerbacks, Mannion and Brandin Cooks will have a field day.


Gorringe- Utah 37 Oregon State 24
Karren- Utah 34 Oregon State 21
Olson- Utah 33 Oregon State 27
Swinney- Utah 38 Oregon State 34

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