Final Score Prediction: Will Oregon Ducks keep CFP hopes alive vs. Utah?
Oregon fans likely haven’t woken up on a Saturday feeling this much anxiety over a game since Week 2 against Ohio State. As the No. 3 Ducks prepare to take on the No. 23 Utah Utes on Saturday afternoon, there is a feeling that they are extremely vulnerable to a loss. The national media is thinking it, and the point spread favors Utah by three points.
A lot of people seem to be waiting for the Ducks to finally lose a game and exit the race for the College Football Playoff.
Will that happen against Utah?
No. 3 Oregon Ducks vs. No. 23 Utah Utes: Ducks Wire staff predictions and opinions
I obviously don’t have the answers, but to be completely honest, I don’t think it does. I feel strangely confident about this game, just like I did about Ohio State back at the beginning of September.
Why? Because in order to win this matchup, Oregon is going to need to rely on both their rushing attack and their run defense, which happen to be two of their strongest areas.
The Ducks rank 2nd in the Pac-12 with 227.4 rushing yards per game, and first in the conference with just 119.9 rushing yards allowed per game. Contrarily, Utah ranks 3rd (214.5) and 5th (139.2) respectively, in those categories. While Oregon doesn’t have a passing game that will spin the Utes dizzy, they should hold an advantage in the running game, and their ability to control the clock and ground out the game could be the difference here.
On top of that, I’m looking at the special teams unit to provide an X-factor. Over the past couple of weeks, Mario Cristobal has mentioned that his team needs to get better in both kick coverage and kick return, and last week against Washington State, we certainly saw some improvement, with Mykael Wright totaling 117 yards per return with a massive 56-yarder to open the second half with a spark for the Ducks when they most needed it.
Expert Picks: College football world split on decision between No. 3 Oregon, No. 23 Utah
Utah tends to struggle in that department, where they rank second-to-last in the conference in kickoff return yards, averaging just 18 per return. More than that, they’ve had multiple punts blocked so far this season and are rarely able to flip the field in the punting game.
When you are dealing with two teams that are so closely matched, it’s important to find little areas where separations are prominent. Luckily for Duck fans, the numbers shade towards Oregon in most of those.
One important thing in this game is also going to be the turnover battle. Neither team gives the ball away at a high clip, and both defenses are able to do damage in that department — Oregon has a +8 turnover margin, while Utah is just at +1. If either team is able to come away with an INT or fumble recovery, it could be massive in the end game, giving the offense one more possession, and thus another chance to grind out the clock and put points on the board.
3 keys to victory for No. 3 Oregon Ducks against No. 23 Utah
In the end, these are two offenses that average over 30 points per game, with stout defenses who don’t like to be scored on. It’s going to be a battle in the trenches, which is something that Cristobal has been preparing his team for all season. The Ducks are big and physical and have proved already that they can win ugly and come out on top when time is getting tight near the end of the game.
Fortunately for Oregon fans, I don’t think this one is going to come down to the wire. It will be close in the first half, but with the use of another great 3rd quarter for the Ducks, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Oregon pull away after the break and win by a comfortable margin.
Final Score Prediction
Oregon 27, Utah 17
ESPN FPI Update: Oregon expected to face major difficulties over final weeks of the season