Utah Quarterbacks and Wide Receivers vs Oregon Defensive Backs
Utah is choosing not the throw it. Travis Wilson has no confidence and the receivers aren't holding up their end of the bargain. It's a disaster. It's likely that we'll see both Wilson and Thompson unless one develops a hot hand. Not sure what else to say at this point that we haven't said before.
The Oregon secondary has been average at best in 2014. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is probably the top cover corner in the league, but as a group they are still giving up 291 yards per game through the air. They are picking off passes though with Ekpre-Olomu grabbing two and safety Erick Dargan pulling in 5. There are 3 senior starters in the secondary for Oregon, and they'll be looking to take advantage of any mistakes made by Wilson and/or Thompson.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Oregon Linebackers
First of all, Devontae Booker is a beast and future NFLer. He's going after his 6th straight 100 plus yard rushing game against the Ducks on Saturday and statistically speaking, he's got a great shot at it.
The Ducks feature a seasoned four-linebacker set including OLB Tyson Coleman (6-1, 235, Jr.) and OLB Tony Washington (6-3, 250, Sr.) who has a team-best 20.0 career TFL and 12.5 sack. On the inside Oregon starts Rodney Hardrick (6-1, 247, Jr.) and Joe Walker (6-2, 240, Jr.) who is 2nd on team with 59 tackles. Walker has stepped into a starting role over the Duck's highly touted Derrick Malone Jr. (6-2, 220, Sr.) who lead the Ducks in tackling a year ago. Walker brings a new level of physicality to this group and is seen as an emerging leader as he continues to supplant Malone. Even with this change, rushing defense isn't their forte, but it might not have to be if the Utes are playing from behind.
The Ducks running defense is surprisingly porous ranking 10th in the conference at an average of 167 yards per game. In the past five games they have giving up 208 to Arizona, 328 at UCLA, 133 to Washington, 193 at Cal and just 132 against Stanford last weekend. In games where they gave up over 190 yards, the game was close through three and half quarters including their only loss to Arizona.
Utah Offensive Line vs Oregon Defensive Line
Oregon is fourth in the conference with 25 sacks this season, and is giving up 167.4 rushing yards/game. The game that should stand out for Utah fans to be excited about is the UCLA game. UCLA rushed the ball 54 times for 328 yards (6.1 YPC). Utah's OL has been getting better as a unit as the season has progressed, and handled a lot of pressure fairly well last game in Tempe. They are built to run-block more than they are to pass-block, so if they can establish the run with Booker it should open up opportunities to take some shots down the field. Keep in mind, the last really athletic three-man front the Utes faced made Utah look silly (Washington State). Utah's OL is much better now than they were against WSU, but this is still a tall order, especially with the lack of shots Utah is taking down the field.
Oregon Quarterback and Wide Receivers vs Utah Defensive Backs
Where do you even begin when talking about Marcus Mariota? Maybe the fact that he has averaged 7.4 TD’s for every 1 INT he has thrown in his career? Maybe that he leads the NCAA in QB rating this season, and was Top 10 in that category his other two years at Oregon? Or maybe it’s the fact that he combines the best of both worlds at quarterback, as he can dissect a secondary from the pocket and then he can outrun almost every defender on the field with his sub 4.5 forty speed. Simply put, Marcus Mariota is a one of kind quarterback that only comes around every decade or so. He’s incredibly talented and is incredibly tough to rattle. He makes great decisions, takes care of the ball and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Pass or run. This may be the best QB that the Utah Football program has EVER faced. Yes, I said it. He’s that good.
At receiver, the two top guys in Byron Marshall and Devon Allen are a converted running back and a track & field star respectively, so you know they can both run. Both are incredibly quick and fast, and Allen is only just a redshirt freshman. The next two leading receivers for Oregon are a pair of big bodies in 6’5 receiver Dwayne Stanford and 6’6 tight end Pharoh Brown. Rounding out the group for the Ducks is another pair of small speedsters in Keanon Lowe and Darren Carrington. The Oregon WR’s provide a very unique challenge, as they put both speed and size on the field, and will go deep to any one of their receivers. They also like utilize a number of them in the run game which can be difficult to keep track of.
With Tevin Carter and Eric Rowe sidelined with injuries, most thought Utah’s secondary was in for a world of hurt against Jaelen Strong and the ASU passing attack last week. Strong was able to catch a TD and a few deep passes, but the Utah secondary performed well above expectations in that game, with Davion Orphey, Dominique Hatfield and Marcus Williams playing very well. What’s their reward for having a good game? They get to play the best QB in the country the next week. It doesn’t get any easier for them this week, although Eric Rowe is expected to be back and starting at CB. The biggest key for them this week will be not allowing the big play, as well as tackling in space. Oregon’s WR’s, RB’s and QB are going to get loose and make play in the open field. It’s up to the secondary to make sure they don’t allow 10 yard gains to turn into 40 yard gains. Tackling is very crucial this week for the secondary.
Oregon Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
True freshman running back Royce Freeman is a bad man. The 5-11, 229 pounder will wear down a defense with his power and then break off a big one with his speed. The guys is a future all american and maybe the best freshman back in the country averaging 94 yards per game, 5.5 yards per carry, and 13 touchdowns. Thomas Tyner is another load of a back at 5-11, 215 pounds. He's pitching in 49 yards per game at 4.5 yards per clip. Byron Marshall is a hybrid back that Oregon will use in a variety of ways. He's averaging 34 yards per game on the ground, but an 8.1 yards per carry, Marshall can take it to the house at any time. He also leads the team in catches with 40 for 13.5 yards per catch and 4 touchdowns. These guys are good, and one of the top trios in the country.
Paul was a big banged up last week but will be ready to go by Saturday. This will be the toughest test for him and Norris in slowing down this high powered rushing attack. Someone is going to have to spy Mariota and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of 3 linebacker sets with Fanaika in there. This is an elite group, but they'll be tested as much as at any point this season against Oregon.
Oregon Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
Oregon's offensive line struggled early in the season in pass protection, giving up quite a few sacks to Washington State and Arizona. Then left tackle Jake Fisher returned from injury and things have done a 180. Fisher is one of the best linemen in the conference, if not the best left tackle, and keeps Mariota clean in the backfield. Center Hroniss Grasu is arguably the most valuable lineman in the conference as well, and one of the top centers in the country. The Ducks will likely be starting a true freshman at right tackle in Tyrell Crosby with Matt Pierson being out. This will be Croby's first career start. This line is good, not great, but good. They've given up 19 sacks on the year, but very most of those came in the two game stretch against Wazzu and Arizona. They'll open up big lanes in the running game and really test the conditioning of Utah's defensive line.
Utah's defensive line could be the best in the conference, and they'll need to be at their best to slow down Mariota and company. That means pressure that turns into sacks. If he gets away from that pressure and the remaining linemen aren't holding their gaps, the junior QB could run wild. Dimick and Orchard will need quick pressure to counteract Oregon's quick-strike attack while holding the edge when the backs and Mariota run outside.
Phillips will bounce back. No doubts, but Utah needs 7s, not 3s. Hackett is going to need put Oregon inside the 10, not let them start at the 20. No short fields for the Ducks. Clay may be the X factor here. Could be hard to take down Oregon without him taking one back. Hasn't done so in Pac 12 play. Is it time? Utes CANNOT allow any big returns. The Thomas kick return for TD last season completely changed the game. Utah was never the same.
The Ducks don't attempt many field goals with only 6 tries on the year. They like to go for it on 4th down. Matt Wogan is the short kicker and is 4-6 while Aidan Schneider handles the deep balls and is 2 for 2. Punter Ian Wheeler averaged 38.7 yards per punt, but hasn't had a ton of opportunities. Punt returner Charles Nelson is dangerous, having taken 2 back to the house this season and averaging 15.2 yards per return and 19.2 yards per kickoff return. The Ducks do a great job covering kicks, giving up only 4.6 yards per punt return and 20 on kick returns.
James Cella, Andrew Gorringe, Jayson Jones, and Brian Swinney contributed to this article.
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