Ducks seek return to win column in clash with visiting Utes
Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - After suffering a crippling setback to their national title hopes, the now sixth-ranked Oregon Ducks will return to action on Saturday afternoon when they host the Utah Utes in a Pac-12 matchup at Autzen Stadium.
The Utes gave it everything they had last week against Arizona State but were unable to stun another nationally ranked team at home. Utah dropped the 20-19 decision for its third straight loss since knocking off then No. 5 Stanford in Salt Lake City.
"It was a great effort by our defense," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of his team, which led 19-7 heading into the fourth quarter. "They played their hearts out, but you've got to protect a 12-point lead so it was a team effort today."
The recent slide has the Utes' postseason chances slipping away as they have only three games left to push their win total to the six required to be bowl eligible. As of now Utah owns a 4-5 record and other than the triumph over the Cardinal, the team has been dismal in Pac-12 action (1-4).
Oregon would certainly be interested to know how Utah was able to top Stanford. For the second straight season the Ducks' perfect season was ruined by the Cardinal, as Oregon went into Stanford Stadium last Thursday night and limped home after a 26-20 loss. Last year the Ducks lost to Stanford, in Eugene, for their only loss of the season.
"Any loss is disappointing. Where we've put ourselves is obviously magnified," Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. "We don't hold the cards anymore, but we never hole the cards. We have to come back, prepare and get ready for whoever is next."
Oregon slipped to No. 6 in the Top 25 and the most recent BCS rankings after the loss. The Ducks still own an impressive 8-1 overall record and a 5-1 mark against the league so there is still a chance they could be competing for the Pac-12 championship if Stanford were to slip up down the stretch.
This is the first time since Utah joined the Pac-12 that the Utes and Ducks have gone head-to-head. Oregon has an 18-8 edge over Utah with the most recent decision a 31-24 triumph for the Ducks during the 2009 season.
Utah was really hampered by Arizona State's defense in the one-point loss this past weekend. The Utes managed just 247 yards of total offense which was far below their season average. Though not one of the most productive offensive units in the Pac-12, the Utes have averaged just under 400 yards of offense and 30 points per game.
Despite accounting for the bulk of the offensive output in the loss, Travis Wilson had a miserable game against the Sun Devils. The Utes' quarterback threw for two touchdowns and led the team in rushing (44 yards), but he completed just 6-of-21 pass attempts and was intercepted twice. Wilson was the hero against Stanford but he has been much more inconsistent than he has been great. Overall Wilson has 16 touchdowns to match 16 interceptions, while he has completed 56.1 percent of his pass attempts for 1,827 yards. Wilson can run when pressed and he has 386 yards and five scores on the ground.
Holding leads is especially tough when running the ball is a challenge and it certainly was for the Utes against Arizona State. None of the trio of productive backs on the roster were able to get much going. Bubba Poole (538 yards, TD) is generally the workhorse as the only player with more than 100 carries this year. Kelvin York (237 yards, two TDs) and Lucky Radley (236 yards, two TDs) have also gotten work but injuries and inconsistent play have hampered the group.
One bright spot for the offense against Arizona State was the play of Dres Anderson. The Utes' leading receiver had four receptions for 100 yards in recording his fifth 100-yard effort of the year. On the year, Anderson has huge leads on the team in receptions (37), yards (742) and touchdowns (six). Sean Fitzgerald (26 receptions, 397 yards, six TDs) is on his heels in terms of touchdowns, while Poole (28 receptions, 227 yards) has been an important contributor through the air as well as on the ground.
Whittingham was right about Utah's defense. Even though the team has a losing record the Utes have rarely been victims of offensive onslaughts. Utah is letting up 382.2 yards and 25.1 points per game, but those numbers don't tell the whole story. Led by Trevor Reilly (78 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) the Utes are the league leaders in sacks (33) and third in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss (65).
The offensively dominant Ducks were grounded against Stanford. Oregon finished with a season-low 312 yards of total offense. It was just the second time this season they have been held below 550 yards of offense. Usually Oregon piles up the yards and the points as it is second in the country in total offense (596.6 ypg) and third in scoring (51.7 ppg).
An injury to starting quarterback Marcus Mariota slowed him against Stanford and could keep him out this week. Mariota is listed as questionable with a knee injury. If Mariota can play the Ducks need him to bounce back from his effort against Stanford. Though he still avoided throwing his first interception of the year, Mariota had his worst completion percentage (20- of-34) in league play, while managing just 250 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Mariota was also contained to the backfield and was unable to produce with his legs. Mariota's numbers passing (164-of-259, 2,531 yards, 22 TDs) and rushing (495 yards, nine TDs) are still sparkling and if he can play on Saturday he should be able to get back to his normal level of production.
Adding to the injury list is the Ducks' leader in receiving yards Josh Huff (41 receptions, 745 yards, six TDs), who is listed as questionable with a hand injury. If Huff is sidelined this week that will put more pressure on receptions leader Bralon Addison (43 receptions, 675 yards, seven TDs).
Oregon is always committed to the run and even though it was stymied against Stanford, the game plan should still be the same. Byron Marshall (925 yards, 12 TDs) will be trying to bounce back, as will the rest of the unit. Marshall is the team's leading rusher but he had just 46 yards against the Cardinal. Thomas Tyner (439 yards, eight TDs) and De'Anthony Thomas (399 yards, seven TDs) are also versatile backs that will get work.
While offense is what Oregon is famous for, the Ducks have been solid on defense this year. They rank fourth in the Pac-12 in yards allowed (361.2 ypg) and there is plenty of talent on that side of the ball. Tony Washington (7.5 sacks) is one of the top pass rushers in the conference, while Terrance Mitchell (47 tackles, four INTs) and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (56 tackles, two INTs) are effective players in the secondary.
11/13 10:57:44 ET