After three consecutive losses, the matchup with the Ducks wasn't exactly what the doctor ordered for the Utes. To make it even tougher, let's add key injuries to the contest and remove starting quarterback Travis Wilson, running back Kelvin York and linebacker Jared Norris who were unable to make the trip.
And oh by the way, let's have the Utes face Oregon after the Ducks received their first loss of the season to a big, mean and physical Stanford team the week before.
While the deck was stacked against the Utes who came in as a big underdog, they hung with the Ducks for two and half quarters thanks to a Utah defense that held Oregon to less than 10 yards on the ground in the first half and a gritty offense who willed their way to a couple of scores.
The offense lead by backups Adam Schulz and Lucky Radley had decent production when you consider the fact that Oregon has the best scoring defense in the conference only giving up 18.2 points per game.
After making things interesting with a solid five minute, eight play drive to open the third quarter, the Utes were down 17-14 and kicking off to the Ducks. As Andy Phillip's kickoff hung in the air, that feeling of "Hey, maybe the Utes have a shot here" felt by Utah fans everywhere, was immediately obliterated by De'Anthony Thomas.
Utah's kickoff coverage this year has been it's worse in recent memory and Thomas took full advantage taking it to the house with an 86 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The momentum, the game and the win were sealed on that one play as Oregon went on to score 27 unanswered points in route to a 44-21 victory.
In short, the wheels didn't just fall off on Thomas' kickoff return, they were blown off by the Ducks.
It was amazing to see how quickly things can turn when you play a speedy team like the Ducks.
In all, the Utes performed well considering what they were going against. The offensive line had their best game in the past few weeks with the addition of Isaac Asiata who got the start at right tackle. The line was assisted with the return of Jake Murphy who made his return with two great catches, one for a touchdown.
Adam Schulz played pretty well considering the former walk-on was making his first start at Autzen Stadium, one of the toughest places in all of college football. His accuracy was suspect early, but improved as the game progressed. For most of the game, Schulz had enough time to find open receivers, however, in most cases, the receivers could not establish separation from the Duck's talented and fast secondary.
Utah's defense was solid for two and half quarters, but ultimately Oregon's speed was just too much as Marcus Mariota carved up Utah's secondary, who struggled to keep up and keep their assignments.
In the end, most didn't expect Utah to come in and win the game, which is why the Utes could have been more aggressive in their play calling and going for it on fourth down.
The season really comes down to these last two games that are "Must Wins" for the Utes to qualify for a bowl this year. At WSU will be tough, but unlike the Oregon game, it's winnable. Win there and the Utes have a shot to make this season a success.
Yes, a 6-6 campaign would be a success, especially considering the Utes have played the third most difficult schedule in all of FBS and had have been killed by key injuries all season long.
This team is making progress, but it will take another couple of recruiting classes to get Utah to a place where 2013's injuries won't have such a devastating impact on the team's record as it has this year.
Brighter days are certainly ahead for this team.
Utes cover, but still lose big at Oregon
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