(5) Oregon Ducks at (17) Utah Utes (+9.5)
After stomping on the Stanford Cardinal last weekend, the No. 5 Oregon Ducks travel to Salt Lake City to face the No. 17 Utah Utes on Saturday, November 8 (10:00 p.m. Eastern).
Oregon is 8-1 this season and 5-1 inside the Pac-12. After a stunning loss to Arizona in early October, the Ducks have soared to four straight wins. The Ducks’ strength is their offense, which is 6th best in the nation in scoring (45.4 points per game). Most recently, the Ducks put up 45 on a Stanford defense that had been averaging just 12.5 points against per game. Heisman hopeful – possibly front-runner – Marcus Mariota threw for 258 yards and two touchdowns, while adding another 85 yards and two more touchdowns on the ground (on just nine carries). For the season, the Junior QB now has 2,541 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and just two interceptions.
Mariota sounded relieved after picking up his first win over the Cardinal. “To get this win was huge. It will build a lot of momentum heading into the rest of the year,” Mariota said. “It was one of those things — good to get it under your belt and bury the hatchet a little.”
With the win – and a loss by No. 4 Ole Miss – Oregon is poised to move into the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings for the time being. If they win out, they are all but guaranteed a spot in the inaugural four-team playoff. Winning out will be easier said than done, though, as Oregon still has two road games left on the schedule and the Pac-12 title game, if they make it that far. The first of the aforementioned road games is this week’s contest against Utah.
Utah entered last weekend on a three game winning streak of its own. But, in a make-or-break game for both teams, dropped a 19-16 overtime decision to Arizona State in Tempe. If they had won, the Utes may have moved into the top ten in the CFP rankings. With the loss, the Utes are now 6-2 on the season, just 3-2 in the Pac-12, and could drop out of the top 25 all together. (Though the AP Poll still has them at No. 20.) All hopes at the inaugural playoffs are gone for the Utes, and their chances at a Pac-12 title are also dwindling.
The Utes passing game, which had long looked suspect, fell completely flat against Arizona State. Quarterback Travis Wilson went 12 of 22 for just 57 yards. Though he did manage a four-yard TD pass to Devontae Booker.
“This is really tough — it hurts this whole team,” said Wilson. “This whole team played hard all the way until the end.”
Despite the poor showing from the passing game, the majority of the Utah team played well against the Sun Devils, as evidenced by the fact the game went to OT. Booker had 137 yards on the ground and the defense forced two big turnovers to keep the game close (though it also surrendered 444 total yards). The defense will need an even better showing against the Ducks, who average 533 yards per game.
Unfortunately for Utah, their run-first offensive mentality does not match-up well with Oregon. The Ducks surrender a whopping 291 passing yards per game (115th in the nation) but just 161 rush yards (which is a much more respectable 67th). One could look at that as an opportunity for Wilson and company to get back on track, but there is no real track for him to get back on. He has only gone over 200 yards once this season, and that was in a week 1 rout of Idaho State. In three of his last four, Wilson has been held under 100 yards. And in a loss to UCLA in early October, he was pulled in favor of backup Kendal Thompson. Wilson only remains the starter because Thompson was equally unimpressive.
Last season, the Ducks smashed the Utes 44-21 in Eugene, and history is set to repeat itself, as the Ducks are currently 9.5-point favorites for Saturday’s tilt in Salt Lake City.
(Photo credit: Athies22 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped from its original.)