When the Utah Utes kick off in Eugene on Saturday at 1:00 P.M. they will be a 26 point underdog, and will be without quarterback Travis Wilson. My first thought is, “when was the last time that Utah was a 26 point underdog to anybody?” I can’t recall a larger point spread deficit for the Utes in the past 20 years. It’s possible that my selective memory has me forgetting a game along the way, but I certainly can’t recall the last time the Utah football team was close to a 30 point underdog. At closer look though, the Ducks have won all of their games by more than 26 points, with only 2 exceptions. The Stanford loss being one of course, and also a 21 point win over the Washington Huskies. The ducks offense has been as prolific as ever. So after closer look, the 26 points might be such a stretch with the Utes handing the reigns over to former walking Adam Schulz.
The Ducks average over 50 points per game, but the Utes have done a pretty good job of holding offenses down this year, similar to last week against ASU. The Utes however have done most of that good work at home. This Ute team has consistently held opponents under their season averages, having held 7 of the 9 teams under their season average. Arizona State averages 44 points per game, and the Utes held them to 20. USC averages 29 points per game, and the Utes held them to 19. Stanford averages 32 points per game, and were held to only 21, of which 7 came on a kick return. Only Oregon State and Arizona surpassed their season averages against the Utes, while Oregon State is the only team that Utah has played that surpassed their average by a significant margin in an overtime thriller. You may notice that both the Oregon State and Arizona games were played on the road.
It’s very possible that the Utes will lose on Saturday. Maybe, it’s even certain. What Utah fans can hope for is improvement going into the most important 2 games of the season when they play Washington State and Colorado the following week to close out the 2013 regular season campaign. Even a narrow loss will help this Ute team gain confidence going into next week at Washington State. The Utes will need to buckle up because it’s going to be a rocky road, as they have not seen an offense like this one yet this year.
The Ducks are coming into the game after losing to the Stanford Cardinal, and watching their goals of being Pac 12 champions, and contenders for a National Championship slip far out of reach. Now it is likely that the Ducks will not even play in the Pac 12 championship game unless Stanford is upset along the way. The Ducks haven’t suffered back to back losses since 2007, and the Utes will look to do this to them this week. Will the Ducks have a little bit of a hang over after watching their national title dreams go by the wayside? Or will they come out with vengeance, and be ready to take out their anger and frustration on the Utes?
The Utes currently hold the #41 spot in the average BCS Computer rankings, and the Ducks are currently #6. This will close an 8 game stretch for the Utes in which they have played a top 35 team in the BCS Computer rankings.
The question most Ute fans are asking is, can we slow down the Ducks? If so, what is it that the Utes can do to take advantage of the Ducks like the Cardinal did? The Cardinal held the Ducks to only 17 first downs, and a mere 312 yards. They were able to do that by being more physical at the line of scrimmage than the Ducks, and by forcing them into 2 turnovers.
The Utes can repeat that pattern if they can hold the edges, and make quarterback Marcus Mariota beat them through the air. This is no easy task as Mariota is one of the top quarterbacks in all of college football with the top QBR rating in FBS at 93.3%. The Utes will need to play exceptional coverage in the secondary and keep containment on the outside with standout Duck running back DeAnthony Thomas, and Mariota in the backfield. If Mariota gets going, it will be hard to stop the impressive Duck attack.
The Utes biggest friend may well end up being the rain that they are expecting in Eugene starting around kickoff time, and continuing throughout the game. Hopefully the Utes can take care of the football. One thing that they can’t afford to do is to give away possessions with turnovers, and commit crucial penalties like they did in the Arizona State game.
In the end we all know that this is a tall task, but remember that the Stanford Cardinal who beat the Ducks 26-20 were beaten by the Utes as well. Some might call that a huge stretch, but I call it the only thing that can give the Utes hope.