Utah Quarterbacks and Receivers vs Oregon Secondary
Travis Wilson is expected to return to the field on Saturday and that should boost a Utah offensive that was was methodical and plodding against Fresno State. That won't work against the Ducks and that's why Wilson's return is so big. The 6-7 senior was off to a great start before injuring his non-throwing shoulder against Utah State, and if he can continue his stellar play and command on the offense, the Utes will have a great shot at pulling off the upset. Despite what appear to be pedestrian numbers so far this year, Wilson with no touchdowns and one interception, the senior quarterback looks like the light has come on. He'll lean heavily on true freshman Britain Covey and sneior Kenneth Scott, as the quarterbacks have done for much of the season so far.
Oregon's secondary is filled with youth, starting three sophomores and a junior. Second year cornerback Aarion Springs is second on the team with 22 tackles and already has four pass breaksups on the year. Opposite him is another sophomore in Chris Seisay, who has a pick and 2 pass breakups. Both are good-sized corners with Seisay coming in at 6-1, 190 and Springs a big 5-11 and 205. Free safety Tyree Robinson is a tremendous athlete with a team leading 2 interceptions and 3 pass breakups in 2015 while strong safety Reggie Daniels is the only upper-classman in the group and is fifth on the team with 15 tackles. Opponents have had success throwing the ball against the Ducks from a yardage standpoint as they're giving up 316 yards per game, so there is reason for optisim in the Utah passing game.
Utah Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Oregon Linebackers
The Ducks have played one team so far this year that can run the ball, and that team did so efficiently as Michigan State put up 197 yards on the ground at 5.3 yards per pop. While the Spartan offensive line is better than Utah's, ol' Sparty doesn't have a running back the caliber of Devontae Booker. Booker and his production are going to be paramount in this game. He effectiveness, ability to break tackles, wear down the Oregon defense, and help Utah control the clock to help keep the Ducks' offense off of the field will be paramount. If last week's game is any indication, he's ready to get going after rushing for 156 yards and catching 5 balls out of the backfield for another 56.
He'll be taking on an Oregon defense that isn't exactly stellar at the stopping the run. They're giving up 140 yards per game on 4 yards per carry, but when they faced a real team in Michigan State, they posted the previously mentioned 197. It's a senior linebacking quartet led by inside linebacker Joe Walke,r leads the team with 23 tackles to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and a fumble recovery. Rodney Hardrick lines up next to him and has 15 tackles on the year while the outside duo of Tyson Coleman and Christian French combining for 24 tackles, 6.5 of those for loss, and 2 sacks.
Utah Offensive line vs Oregon Defensive Line
The Utah offensive line has failed to live up to expectations so far this season, especially on the left side of the line where Sam Tevi struggled and was eventually replaced by Jackson Barton, while Salesi Uhatafe and Hiva Lutui have underperformed at left guard. At least there has been stability in the pass blocking on the right side, but the overall running game push over there has struggled as well. Things started to get going a bit last week, but Utah is going to need to see dramatic improvement.
Oregon's defensive line is led by all american candidate and potential first round pick DeForrest Buckner at defensive end. He's a load at 6-7, 290 and will look to exploit Utah's suspect tackle play so far. He has 4 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far on the year. Alex Balducci is the big nose tackle inside at 6-4, 310. He'll eat up a lot of Utah's interior blockers. Tua Talia is another big body at defensive end at 6-5, 285. All three are seniors.
Oregon Quarterbacks and Receivers vs Utah Secondary
Will it be Adams or Lockie? That's the big question. The expectation is that Vernon Adams will play despite a broken finger that kept him sidelined last week against Georgia State. Adams is a dual-threat type of guy, but excels more throwing the ball. He's a 64% passer so far this season throwing for 277 yards per game this season with 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. As a runner, he's averaging 50 yards per game at 3.6 yards per rush. Not the biggest kid at 5-11, 201 pounds and you have to wonder what a big hit from the monster Utah defense could do to him.
Utah makes an adjustment to their starting lineup in the secondary with Dominique Hatfield overtaking Reggie Porter at one corner spot, while Cory Butler-Byrd holds down his job. It's a bit of a surprise to see Porter get the boot instead of Butler-Byrd as he has looked better in game action. The Utes are still a work in progress in the secondary, showing a succeptibility to give up the big play through the air or let receivers get behind them. The 10 plays of 10 yards or more for Fresno State last week should be a huge concern when they go up against a team in Oregon that is as explosive as any in the country. We've seen Tevin Carter playing up in the box quite a bit, but he'll likely have to stay in coverage more than in the first three games to help limit the play-big opportunities for the Ducks. Utah has been highly successful at forcing turnovers from their secondary so far this year with 4 early interceptions.
Oregon Running Backs and Tight Ends vs Utah Linebackers
Is Royce Freeman the best back in the conference? The best in the country? The best of all time? That's pushing it, but the point is that the sophomore is good. Really good. At 5-11 and 230 pounds, he's exactly what you want in a running bacck. Freeman comes in averaging 124 yards per game on the ground with 5 touchdowns and an average rush of 6.8. While a lot of those yards were picked up against lesser foes, Freeman didn't have a ton of carries against Eastern Washington and Georgia State. He was able to gain 94 yards onthe ground in 24 carries against arguably the nation's top defense in Michigan State. Also has 7 receptions on the season. The Ducks' running back depth took a hit before the season with the loss of Thomas Tyner, but Kani Benoit is a good-sized back that averages 42 yards per game and 7 yards a game, while Tony Brooks-James and Taj Griffin are averaging a combined 102 yards per game. Throw in Adams' ability to run and the Ducks are putting up 306 yards total per contest on the ground.
If Gionni Paul and Jared Norris want to prove that they're 1st team all conference candidates, this is the week to do it. Both have been very good so far this year, with Paul already taking home one Pac 12 defensive player of the week honor. The Utes are giving up only 105 yards per game on the ground, and they get help from the defensive line, but Paul has been everywhere so far with 127 tackles, while Norris has one-upped him with a team leadin 28. The broken link? Jason Whittingham, who has failed to find his groove so far this season with only 8 tackles, consistently looking slow, and missing assignments. Can't have that happen this weekend.
Oregon Offensive Line vs Utah Defensive Line
It's a typical light Oregon offensive line with only right tackle Tyrell Crosby tipping the scales at 300 pounds or more. These guys are light on their feet and well conditioned so they can keep up with the up-tempo offense in their zone blocking scheme. Left tackle Tyler Johnstone might be the best left tackle in the conference. Left guard Matt Pierson is a former walk-on and is in his first year as a starter and center Matt Hegarty is a transfer from Notre Dame who is trying to replace all american centre Hronnis Grasu One issue with the Oregon offensive line? False starts. Way too many of them. They've also surrendered 6 sacks.
It'll be the challenge of the season for Utah's defensive line as they've got to control the line of scrimmage and get pressure on Adams, while also containing his running abilities while also slowing Freeman. The Ducks will run it up the gut quite a bit, so Lowell Lotulelei, Filipo Mokofisi, Seni Fauonuku, and Stevie Tui'kolovatu have to be efficient in plugging holes and gettign early penetration. Because Adams can move and make guys miss, the Utah pass rush will also need to be wary of him picking up yardage on the ground, so they need to make sure they're not overpurusing on their rush. The play of Kylie Fitts last week gives a boost to an already tremendous line and the possible return of Hunter Dimick will help a team that, while they're not getting a ton of sacks, they're still getting plenty of pressue.
Utah's special teams look like they may be rounding into the form that all of us expected when the season started. With both Cory Butler-Byrd and Britain Covey taking back kicks last week, Utah (Covey) is now averaging 18.3 yards per punt return and 34 yards per kick return, while limiting their opposition to 6.3 and 18.5 respectively. Tom Hackett is still booming it at 44.7 yards per punt with Andy Phillips now 3 for 5 on the year with a long of 37.
Bralon Addison is electric in the return game averaging 20.8 yards per punt return, including an 81 yarder for a score. Byron Marshall handles the kickoff return duties and averages a stellar 29 yards per return. Oregon punter Ian Wheeler doesn't get a ton of work and is only averaging 38.7 yards per punt. Kicker Aidan Schneider is 6 for 6 on the season with a long of 40.