Utah Quarterbacks and Receivers vs Oregon State Secondary
Is it really a mystery who will lead Utah’s offense on Thursday? We’d be shocked to see Travis Wilson out there against the Beavers after Kendal Thompson’s performance at UCLA. That being said, this matchup is fascinating especially as Oregon State has had 10 days to prepare for Thompson.
If we’re OSU, we’re taking away Utah’s running capability and forcing Thompson and an up and down receiving corps to beat me in the air. Now taking away the run and scramble is no easy task, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see them load up the box with 7 or 8 defenders.
So the question is, can Thompson take advantage in the air? As bad as Oregon State is against the ground attack, they are pretty strong in defending the pass and rank second in the conference giving up just 198 yard/game in the air. They are lead by Larry Scott (not that Larry Scott) and Steven Nelson who lead the team in passes defended and are amongst the best tacklers on the squad.
Are Dres, Scott and Clay more talented than their counterparts on the defense? YES! Can they break out of the passing game funk they’ve been in the three games? That remains to be scene as they have not been up to snuff against Pac-12/Power 5 level competition.
Edge: Oregon State
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Oregon State Linebackers
Oregon State has the seventh rated defense in the country and showcases junior and senior starters at every position- their top three linebackers are all seniors. However, when you inspect the top tacklers in the Pac12, no individual Oregon State player or linebacker is in the top 40 in the entire conference. All three of their starters spread the love around and each average around 6 tackles per game. They have the ability to make plays across the entire corpse, which could pose a threat to Utah who has been successful when attacking weak parts of opposing front sevens.
Opponents of Oregon State have had decent success running the ball, but total rushing yards per game are coming at a premium. Portland State averaged 5.5 yards per carry against the Beavers, USC was at 4.2, and overall Oregon State is giving up 132 rush yards per game. Utah comes into this Thursday averaging 202 yards/game on the ground, and Devontae Booker alone accounts for over half of that with 103 yards per game. Utah must be able to rush the ball effectively this game, something that won't be an easy task with Oregon State getting extra time to prepare for Kendal Thompson. The x-factor could very well come down to Westlee Tonga, bn under-used weapon for the Utes. If he can make chain-moving catches and extend drives for the Utes, this will open up running lanes and force the linebackers to respect him in space. Dave Christensen had some darn good tight ends back in the day- now is the time to bring Tonga and co. into those schemes.
Utah Offensive Line vs Oregon State Defensive Line
After an embarrassing performance against Washington State the offensive line turned in their best performance of the season against the best opponent they've played. They were dominant in run blocking, while average in pass protection, which is about as good as you can expect at this point. Redshirt freshman Leka Uhatafe got his first career start and turned in a good performance while usual starters Isaac Asiata and Junior Salt rotated at left guard.
The strengths of this group are the two tackles Jeremiah Poutasi and JJ Dielman, and center Siaosi Aiono. Utah is going to allow about 3 sacks a game. That's just reality, but they can be dominant in the run game. That's what the offense needs to rely on.
Oregon State features a front 7 that is solid against the run, but has just an average pass rush. The top threat on the Beaver defensive line is a converted wide receiver to defensive end, Obum Gwacham. At 6'5-240 he's got great speed off the edge and leads his team with 4 sacks and 5 TFL's. Playing opposite of Gwacham is junior Lavonte Burnett, who has 2 sacks on the season. Anchoring the middle of the front is senior DT Dylan Wynn. Wynn doesn't provide much pass rush as he only has one sack, but anchors the run stopping D. Another senior DT, Siale Hautau, mans the middle of the line and is a very big body.
There's nothing outstanding about the OSU defensive line, but they do most things well. They're not huge threat with their pass rush, but are solid against the run. Overall, they're a good group.
Edge: Oregon State
Oregon State Quarterback and Wide Receiver vs Utah Secondary
There’s still some uneasiness in the Utah secondary with the unknown status of safety Tevin Carter. True freshman Andre Godfrey played well in his place after Carter left the game with an injury, but the ideal situation finds Carter playing centerfield against Mannion and company. Brian Blechen will get the start next to either Carter or Godfrey. The senior has been steady this season and has often acted as a coach on the field, helping putting some of the more inexperienced players into the right spots, while not letting it affect his own game. Blechen has been blowing up receivers over the middle throughout the year with big hits. Senior corner Eric Rowe is coming off of a tough game against UCLA. He wasn’t terrible, but Rowe struggled to stay with receivers and had back to back bad beats on deep balls late in the game. He got away with the first on an overthrown ball, but was torched on the very next play. Rowe will probably get the matchup against Mullaney on Thursday. Domnique Hatfield has been a monster at corner so far this season. Outside of a mix-up against UCLA that turned into a 90+ yard TD, he’s been Utah’s best and most consistent cornerback and will likely draw the matchup against Bolden. That leaves the constantly improving Justin Thomas to handle Hunter Jarmon.
This is going to be a real test for Utah this week in slowing the pass. If the pass-rush isn’t there, the DBs will need to be close to their best against Oregon State. They won’t throw it as much as Wazzu did a few weeks ago, but Mannion and his corps of receivers are good enough to beat the Utes in a similar fashion. Utah’s backfield buckled a bit late in the game when UCLA turned up the tempo. Too many quick out-routes were open, as was the deep ball over the top at times that resulted in two late touchdowns. The Utes will need to clean that up against a passing attack that will make you pay for the littlest of mistakes.
Edge: Oregon State
Oregon State Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
Oregon State isn’t the same Oregon State that came to RES last year where Sean Mannion passed for over 443 yards with 5 touchdown leading the Beavers to an OT win. The Beavers are looking to be much more balanced with Terron Ward and Storm Woods who are both averaging about 68 yards rushing yards/game. Those aren’t great numbers, but it’s safe to say that Oregon State will try to establish a presence on the ground.
Utah’s linebackers on the other hand have been better than expected, especially with the run stopping capabilities of Jared Norris. Utah’s rushing defense is second in the conference, giving up an average of 113/yards per game. Yes this number is deflated by a larger than normal tackles for loss/sacks stat by the defense, but still, Utah has proven to be very stout in their run defense and the numbers point to them having the advantage in Corvalis Thursday night.
Oregon State Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
Games are won and lost in the trenches, and that will absolutely be the case on Thursday. The most important matchup in this game is the Beavers offensive line vs the sack-happy front four of the Utes. Oregon State is first in the Pac12 and 11th nationally in time of possession with almost 34:00 per game. The Oregon State offensive line is the toughest unit Utah will have faced so far this season- allowing only 2.4 sacks per game (Utah is first nationally at 5.6 sacks/game. They do miss injured center Isaac Seumalo, but things have held together pretty well without him. The Utah DL struggled getting pressure on Mannion last year and if they want to have any chance of winning on Thursday they must disrupt him in the pocket. The Utes won't (read: shouldn't) be rushing three against Mannion this year, and luckily for Utah fans Brandin Cooks won't be on the field, either. Slight edge to the Utes, but only if they bring the noise and try to disrupt the Oregon State passing game.
Utah's special teams unit just keeps chugging along. Kaelin Clay hasn't had a two game stretch this season without taking a kick back for a touchdown. Nothing against UCLA last week so maybe this is when he'll take back number 5...and 6. Andy Phillips is coming off of the most clutch performance of his career in nailing the game winner and going 3 for 3. Tom Hackett is the early favorite for the Ray Guy Award. He kicks it far and he kicks it away from returners. Not much more to say about Utah's special teams that haven't already been said. They're fantastic.
Return man Ryan Murphy is dangerous. He's averaging 33 yards per kick return and has a 97 yard touchdown. Victor Bolden returns punts and is averaging a very respectable 11 yards per return. Kicker Trevor Romaine sat out the first two games due to an academic issue, but had returned and is 4 for 4 on the season. Backup Garrett Owens was 6 for 8 in his place to start the year. Punter Keith Kostol is averaging on 40 yards per punt this season.
James Cella, Andrew Gorringe, Jayson Jones, and Brian Swinney contributed to this report
Game Matchups: Utah at Oregon State
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