Utes Could Pose Familiar Problem For Ducks
By John Baker
Ten days after physical line play was a crucial factor in Stanford knocking Oregon from the national championship hunt, the big uglies up front could play another key role Saturday when the Ducks host Utah.
The Utes have lost three straight since its stunning 27-21 win over Stanford, but the lessons gleaned from that win are worth noting for Oregon. Utah's defense throttled the Stanford running game, limiting Tyler Gaffney and friends to 143 total yards, nearly half of what the Cardinal put on the Ducks as they ground Oregon's defense down and eventually out.
This week, the battle will be Oregon's revamped offensive line against a Utah front four that, despite the team's record (4-5), is considered one of the best in the nation. A big, physical group, Utah's linemen have been tough to handle most of the season and shown an ability to stop the run or pressure the passer with just four guys. Oregon, which was toying with offensive line changes in the aftermath of the loss to Stanford, must reassert itself up front — offensively and defensively — after being mastered by Stanford's lineman.
Utah's front four are physical, something Oregon has struggled with this season. Guys to keep an eye on are defensive ends Nate Orchard and Trevor Reilly, who have helped Utah jump to near the national lead in sacks. The push in the middle usually comes from Tenny Palepoi, a 6-foot-2, 300-pounder with a constant motor.
That battle becomes even more vital should quarterback Marcus Mariota play with his sprained MCL. Against Stanford he was less than his usual mobile self and had trouble stepping into throws — missing on a number of tosses that seem like sure things normally. If the Oregon offensive line starts to lose the battle up front, Mariota, whose status for the game is still a bit cloudy, could be in for a long day.
Next Up: Jeff Lockie
If Mariota isn't capable of playing Saturday, or starts but simply can't sustain anything, Oregon fans will get their first extended look at backup Jeff Lockie. The redshirt freshman from Danville, Calif., said he's ready to go whenever the situation dictates it. With the type of offense Oregon runs, Lockie said that the backup quarterback has to be mentally ready at any time, because running quarterbacks tend to get hurt.
Mariota has said he's fit to go and teammates have said that he's running around well in practice, so it's likely he'll start. Should Utah's potent pass rush do some damage, though, Lockie could find himself behind center in this one.
Utah has had six games decided by seven or less points this year and has gone 3-3 in those contests. Coach Kyle Whittingham said that's not good enough at this juncture in the season.
Turnovers 'R Us
Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has experienced the highs and lows of the position this season and seems to be on a low ebb heading into Saturday's game at Oregon.
The redshirt sophomore can at times mesmerize with his strong arm, putting the ball where it has no business being completed, but also lacks judgment at times and it costs him. He threw six picks at UCLA and in the last three games has completed a paltry 14-of-44 passes for 187 yards and six picks against three touchdowns as he battles a sprained finger on his throwing hand.
In the battle between good Wilson and bad Wilson, the bad version seems to have come to the fore leading up to Saturday's game. For the season, Wilson has 16 touchdown passes and 16 picks, which offers Oregon's secondary some potential excitement. The question for Wilson and the Utes is, who will show up Saturday, the good, bad or perhaps the ugly (see UCLA game)? If Wilson gets off to another poor start, we may have another Adam Schulz sighting. Schulz came in for Wilson in the Arizona and USC games and completed 19-of-40 passes overall for 221 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
• Oregon leads the all-time series 18-8 and is 11-3 in Eugene. Utah's last win was a 17-13 verdict in 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
• Mariota has attempted a Pac-12 record 327 passes without an interception, 259 of those this season.
• Mariota leads the nation in fourth-quarter passing efficiency (283.3). He's completed 19-of-20 passes for 252 yards and 5 TDs.
• Oregon has 61 touchdown drives this season, 42 of which have taken two minutes or less.
• After leading the nation in takeaways in 2012, the Ducks defense is doing well again this season with 23 so far (10 INT/13 FR)