The Oregon Ducks are in unfamiliar territory heading into their Saturday evening bout with the Utah Utes.
For starters, they are the lower-ranked team for the first time since Week 1 of the season when they faced the Georgia Bulldogs. Factor in the uncertainty about the status of star quarterback Bo Nix, and you have a team with its backs against the wall, set to face a team that took care of this team twice last season.
Dan Lanning and his staff will have their work cut out for them in this one, regardless of Nix’s health status. Still, there is plenty they can do to secure a victory in this one, including:
Elite Linebacker Play
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Utah does a lot of its damage on offense by utilizing tight end Dalton Kincaid, one of the best in all of college football. It is also getting an excellent performance from running back Tavion Thomas, two players who will almost certainly cause problems for Oregon’s defense on Saturday.
That puts a lot of pressure on Oregon’s men in the middle, namely linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe. Considered one of the strongest position groups in the country during the offseason, Sewell and Flowe haven’t lived up to expectations.
A big game on Saturday, where they neutralize the offensive threat of Kincaid and Thomas, will go a long long way toward helping the Ducks avoid another loss and will help these two guys put more promising tape out there for NFL scouts.
Big Game from the Backfield
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Utah has a top-30 rushing defense in the country, holding opponents to 121.4 rushing yards per game.
Oregon has faced and succeeded against top-tier run defenses a handful of times this season, but it will be more critical than ever in a game where Nix may not play, or may not be 100% if he does suit up.
Bucky Irving, Noah Whittington and the rest of Oregon’s backfield need to find ways to move the chains, and keep Oregon’s offense on the field. Which leads to the final key:
Win in the Trenches
AP Photo/Young Kwak
Oregon’s success this year has a lot — A LOT — to do with the men up front on the offensive line. The Ducks can’t generate an effective run game, which is key to success against Utah, without a push from the fellas up front.
Likewise, Oregon’s defensive line will need to plug holes and generate a pass rush, otherwise Utah will move the ball effectively through the air or on the ground.
Both teams have very talented playmakers on offense, especially if Nix suits up, so this game will likely come down to which team can throw the opposing offense out of its rhythm.