By Andrew Gorringe
It’s time for some PAC 12 football, as the #18 Utes head to Eugene, Oregon for the first conference game of the 2015 season, as they take on the #12 Oregon Ducks, in a Top 20 matchup in primetime on FOX.
The national runner ups in 2014, Oregon returned a lot of talent for this season, and feature a very talented transfer quarterback in Vernon Adams. The Oregon offense is averaging 50 points per game through 3 games this season, though two of those games were against FCS Eastern Washington and FBS bottom dweller Georgia State. Against the now #3 team in the country Michigan State, the Ducks put up 28 points and 432 yards of total offense. Adams sat out last week’s game with a broken index finger on his throwing hand, but it is assumed that he will be healthy for the Utes. Against Michigan State, Adams was 22 of 39 for 309 yards, 1 TD and 2 INT’s, and also had 6 yards on 14 carries and a TD. Adams has a knack for making the big play, but he is also much more susceptible to making mistake than Marcus Mariota was. Aside from QB Vernon Adams, the Duck offense is loaded with dangerous weapons. RB Royce Freeman (5’11-230) is averaging 124 yards per game, and 6.78 yard per carry, to go along with 5 TD’s. Oregon’s receivers feature four big time playmakers in Bralon Addison, Dwayne Stanford, Charles Nelson and Byron Marshall, all of whom have over 100 yards receiving in 2015. The Duck offensive line is still a work in progress at this point, as they gave up 4 sacks to Michigan State, and averaged just 2.86 yards per carry vs the Spartans.
On defense, the standout of the group is DE/DT hybrid Deforest Buckner, whom most consider a Top 10 draft pick in 2016. Buckner is 4th on the team with 15 tackles, to go along with 1.5 sacks and 4 TFL’s. The linebackers for the Ducks are fast and active, and are led by senior middle linebacker Joe Walker, who is first on the team with 23 tackles, along with 2.5 TFL’s. Senior’s Rodney Hardrick and Christian French also line up at linebacker. The biggest area of concern for this Oregon team is the secondary, which is currently giving up an average of 316 passing yards per game, 64.6% comp. percentage and a 2:1 TD/INT ratio. Sophomore safety Tyree Robinson leads the team in interceptions with two, while corner Arrion Springs leads the team with 4 pass break ups, to go along with 22 total tackles, which is 2nd on the team.
Overall, the Oregon defense ranks 106th in the country in yards give up per game(456), 104th in points per game surrendered (33.7), 67th in opponent 3rd down percentage (35%) and 98th in amount of 10+ yard plays given up (46).
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Another important statistic is turnover margin, and that may end up being the critical stat of the upcoming game. So far through 2015, Utah is +4 on the season, and Oregon is +3. This game may just come down to who can better protect the football.