Three Things To Watch: No. 10 Utah Utes Vs. No. 12 Oregon Ducks
SALT LAKE CITY- No. 10 Utah is set to play what will be the biggest game of the year for the Utes against No. 12 Oregon. The game to be played on the Ducks’ home turf will determine, along with the No. 6 USC versus No. 16 UCLA game earlier in the day, who will be representing the Pac-12 in Las Vegas for the Conference Championship Game.
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There is a lot riding on the game and will require the Utes’ best effort in the hopes of walking away victorious to go to their second straight trip to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Here are three things to watch heading into Saturday’s big matchup.
How The Defense Adjusts To Unknowns
A lot of rumors have been swirling around about whether or not Utah will be facing Oregon quarterback Bo Nix or not come Saturday and it’s hard to know what to believe.
Did Nix really get hurt against Washington? Was it actually a fake cramp to buy the Ducks some time to try a settle themselves against the Huskies without a timeout left? Did Nix get hurt after he came back into the game? Maybe he still plays, but he won’t be 100%? Or maybe it’s all just a lie in an attempt to get Utah to practice for the wrong thing?
It’s really hard to know what is real and what is fake here, but it seems like the bottom line is the Utes need to prepare like they are going against Nix and adjust however they need to if it’s one of his backups. The better Utah is at this, the better their odds of being prepared for whatever first year head coach Dan Lanning and crew may through at them.
Utah Rushing Attack Versus Oregon Rush Defense
Oregon’s strength as a team doesn’t exactly stem from their defense except in one area, their rush defense which ranks second in the Pac-12. Utah on the other hand is no slouch rushing the ball despite having to be creative using multiple players while guys were hurt or unavailable for other reasons.
Making things a little more interesting last week was the re-emergence of star running back Tavion Thomas against Stanford. Thomas has mostly been a shell of himself this season but appeared to be back to his old ways against the Cardinal last week. Can he do it again against a much better rush defense? Utah certainly needs him to.
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A few other aspects to watch for in this game when it comes to Utah’s rushing attack against Oregon’s rush defense is who else will be available?
Ja’Quinden Jackson and Jaylon Glover both appeared to be pretty affective before getting hurt against Arizona two weeks ago. Micah Bernard is another guy who can help open things up with a slightly different skill set than some of the other backs but he has also been a little banged up.
Freshman quarterback Nate Johnson has been used the past two weeks to keep defenses honest and he’s burned every single one of them, will the Utes feel the need to deploy him a few times against the Ducks? That very well may depend on where starting quarterback Cam Rising is at who has also been a little hurt the past few weeks and limited in his running abilities. Rising did rip a few runs off last week against Stanford, but they were few and far between.
After a very slow start to the season getting pressure on the quarterback, the Utah defense now ranks second in the Pac-12 in sacks and third in tackles for loss. They will need that tenacity they’ve started to show in the front seven on Saturday.
Oregon has one of the best offensive lines in the league and they’ve done a really good job keeping Nix (or whoever may play on Saturday) upright all year long. Nix has only been sacked once this year against Stanford.
Have the Utes really improved enough to cause chaos in Oregon’s offensive backfield, or is their recent success and ranking due to not playing the best offensive fronts?
Michelle Bodkin is the Utah Utes Insider for KSLsports.com and host of both the Crimson Corner Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and The Saturday Show (Saturday from 10 a.m.–12 p.m.) on The KSL Sports Zone. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @BodkinKSLsports
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