Oregon vs Utah is the matchup most thought we would see in the Pac-12 Championship game. Oregon clinched their spot in the title game after the win over Arizona. However, the Utes hadn’t officially clinched their spot until their win last weekend over Colorado. At long last though, we will see the matchup of the two teams who have been the best this season in the conference.
Oregon Takes on Utah: Keys For an Oregon Win
It Starts and Possibly Ends With Justin Herbert
On paper, Justin Herbert has had a fantastic season. However, in the final two games of the regular season, he was subpar.
Utah leads the nation, allowing just 2.3 yards per attempt on the ground. This will be the best offensive line that the Utes have faced so Oregon producing a little more than that wouldn’t be a surprise. Even with that, running the ball is going to be tough.
The weather is also expected to be a factor. It’s supposed to rain during the game and rain a lot.
All of those factors are putting everything against the thought of Herbert having a big game. With those factors, this would be the perfect time for Herbert to step up and have the biggest moment of his career and lead this program to their first Pac-12 title since 2014.
It certainly won’t be easy. While the Utah pass defense isn’t quite as good as their run defense, they are still tough in the passing game and don’t allow their opponents to have anything easy.
The whole passing game was off in the win over Oregon State. It’s not going to be easy to pass against Utah. But if the passing game is as off in this one as it has been the past two weeks, it’s hard to see Oregon winning.
Stop the Run
This is a key in basically any football game. However, Kyle Wittingham wants to run the ball. He wants his team to establish the physicality of a football game. He also has probably the best back in the conference in Zack Moss running the ball.
Not only is Moss dangerous, but quarterback Tyler Huntley is a capable runner. Now Huntley does look to pass the ball more when he breaks out of the pocket, but he is very mobile and can run if he needs to. His ability to run also keeps defenses off-balance in the option game.
It sounds weird to prefer to put the game in the hands of Huntley, who is completing over 75 percent of his passes and has only two interceptions. But if the running game gets going it sets up the play-action. If Utah gets the play-action going that’s when they become more explosive.
If the Oregon front seven can bottle up Moss, it gives them a great chance to avoid big plays. It also puts Utah in obvious passing situations, where they prefer not to be. Even with a mightily improved Huntley.
Special Teams Has to Be Dialed-In
Oregon has been spotty on special teams this season in certain parts, meanwhile, Utah is always dialed-in on special teams.
Jevon Holland has shown to be dangerous on punt returns. Mykael Wright has shown to be dangerous on kick returns. Utah is also generally pretty good at not giving return men chances. It wouldn’t be surprising for those two to not get a real chance.
That’s when the kicking side of Oregon has to be good. Blake Maimone has been a weapon punting the ball this season. However, he’s been the only weapon kicking the ball. Camden Lewis has been solid on longer field goals this season, but on kicks from 20-29 yards, he is 2/6. This is going to be a game where it’s hard to score in the redzone, making it likely that Lewis is going to have to make at least one field goal.
Understandably, there’s not a lot of confidence from the fan base in Lewis. But if Oregon is to win, he will likely be called upon at some point and have to deliver.
The good thing for Oregon’s spotty coverage unit is that Utah doesn’t have a very dangerous return man. Demari Simpkins did take a punt back for a touchdown last week, but that one return has padded his stats a lot.
Oregon vs Utah: Overall Thoughts
This is going to be a slugfest. With the way these two teams are built, and the weather, expect this to be a very low-scoring game. It will also be a very physical game, and neither team is afraid of or ill-equipped to play in a low-scoring, physical game.
If Oregon plays in this game the same way they’ve played the past two weeks, they will lose. It’s as simple as that. The Ducks are capable of winning this game as well if they show up to play and play up to their potential.
And frankly, if they don’t show up to play, the coaching staff deserves criticism.
Buckle up folks, this is going to be a slugfest, and the first team to succumb to the physicality is likely going to be the team to lose.
Top Photo: Eric Evans/Oregon Athletics