5 Things To Watch: Utah
EUGENE, Ore. — For just the second time this season, the Oregon football team is looking for a bounce-back effort Saturday when the No. 12 Ducks host No. 10 Utah in Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) saw their eight-game winning streak end last week at the hands of rival Washington. Like Oregon, the Utes (8-2, 6-1) also lost their opener to an SEC team on hostile territory — at Florida — and have lost just once since, at UCLA.
The teams have four common opponents — Oregon beat the Bruins, WSU, Arizona and Stanford, while the Utes lost to UCLA but have wins over the Cougars, Wildcats and Cardinal over the past three weeks.
Oregon leads the all-time series between the two, 23-12, including 13 out of 18 in Eugene. The Ducks have won five of the nine matchups since Utah became a conference rival, though the Utes have won three of the last four.
Saturday's game kicks off at 7:35 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN, with Dave Flemming on play by play, analysis from Rod Gilmore and Tiffany Blackmon with reporting from the sidelines.
Some storylines to watch Saturday evening …
1. Not since the first week of September has the Oregon football program found itself regrouping after a loss. But that was the situation this week after the Ducks let a late lead slip away against Washington last Saturday.
After dropping their opener to Georgia, the Ducks bounced back emphatically with a win over Eastern Washington and kept it going the next week against BYU. The challenge is greater this time around, with the defending Pac-12 champion Utes next up.
"I know this, we didn't let Georgia beat us twice; I'm not gonna let Washington beat us twice," UO coach Dan Lanning said earlier this week. "We played them once. And I'm not gonna let that happen. My focus is, we gotta go play a really dang good Utah team — probably one of the most complete teams that we played this season. And you're not going to do that by crying over spilled milk."
2. For all that went wrong for the Ducks against UW, they probably win the game if not for the injury to starting quarterback Bo NIx. When he went down in the fourth quarter, momentum was lost.
The silver lining to that dark cloud was, Nix was able to return to the game after missing a series. That fueled cautious optimism that he'll be good to go against the Utes.
"(Nix) has been able to be out there on the practice field for us this week," Lanning said. "We're being really conscientious with him and his reps, want to do a good job taking care of him. But he's preparing himself as if he can go. But we've also got some other guys ready to go if needed."
3. Even a completely healthy Oregon team would have its hands full with the Utes, who have become one of the Pac-12's most consistent programs in recent years. Utah is arguably the most physical team in the conference at the line, and quarterback Cameron Rising leads a diverse offensive attack.
The Ducks were reminded of all of that in a 38-7 loss in Salt Lake City almost exactly one year ago today — the anniversary of that game is this Sunday. Two weeks later in the Pac-12 title game, a 38-10 loss unfolded in eerily similar fashion.
"This game means a ton," Lanning said. "And I think our guys are playing for each other, and they want to do well for each other. This team really cares about each other, which is important, and I think they all have a taste in their mouth from last season. You know, some of the guys weren't here and some guys were, but they want to go perform. They want to go perform to their ability."
4. For Oregon to perform well against Utah, the secondary will look to clean up some breakdowns exploited by Washington. The Huskies lead the nation in passing offense, and though the Utes aren't quite as prolific, Rising can hurt opponents through the air.
Lanning this week showed confidence in his group and its ability to rebound, while making clear it was imperative they do so.
"We're probably closer than some of you think," he told local media. "That being said, it's not acceptable. It's not something that we accept in our program. We want to play better than we're playing. And the way that I understand how to do that is to go work."
5. The loss to UW all but assured the Ducks they'll be left out of the College Football Playoff. But there remains plenty to play for.
In any given season, the first goal is to win the Pac-12 and advance to the Rose Bowl. That's very much in Oregon's control — but the Ducks have to get through the Utes to keep it that way.
"Obviously, our guys were anxious to get back to work," Lanning said. "You know, I think we all had a taste in our mouth that we were ready to get out of our mouth. Ready to go back and attack things."