Oregon faced Utah Friday night with a spot in the Rose Bowl on the line. Oregon came into the game largely viewed as the underdog. However, you would not have known that if you watched the game. The lines on both sides came out and dominated to start the game. Justin Herbert looked sharp, and he was showing to be a threat in the running game.
After taking a 20-0 lead into the half, it felt like Oregon should’ve been up more. Utah also came out swinging in the second half and was able to get the score to 23-15 at the end of the third quarter. However, the pass-rush started to get home to Tyler Huntley in the fourth quarter, and CJ Verdell had two touchdown runs, one going for 70 yards. All of that culminated in a 37-15 win for Oregon, and a spot in the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2014 season.
Oregon Beats Utah Soundly
The Defense With Their Best Game of the Season
This has been a great first season for the defense with Andy Avalos as the coordinator. It makes sense that with not many people giving Oregon a chance to win against a Utah team that had been steamrolling teams, that they would have their best game of the season.
It started early. The Utes were able to drive the ball down the field on the first possession. However, a good play on third down led to an early fourth-down statement play. Utah predictably gave the ball to Zack Moss, but the Oregon front got penetration, and Brady Breeze came in and made the tackle for loss. It was the first of many big plays on the night for the junior safety, including an interception.
The biggest impact of the game though came from freshman defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux. The former five-star recruit showed why he had so much attention coming out of high school.
On the night Thibodeaux had 2.5 sacks, but when he wasn’t getting a sack he was still living in the Utah backfield. As a team, Oregon had six sacks in the second half. Thibodeaux was the main reason for that. All of that pressure disrupted any passing game Utah attempted to have.
Dominance From the Offensive Line
Utah came into this game allowing just 2.3 yards per attempt on the ground this season. That couldn’t have been further from the case in this game.
The ground game started off strong, and only got stronger as the game went along. On the night Oregon gained 5.8 yards per attempt on the ground, and that includes a bad snap that lost a lot of yards.
Verdell went for over 200 yards and three touchdowns, and as a team, the Ducks ran for 239 yards on 41 carries. Oregon came in looking like a team that was tired of hearing about Utah’s physicality.
Oregon was able to get the yards they wanted. In short-yardage situations, Oregon was obviously going to run the ball, and there was nothing Utah could do about it.
Not just the ground game, but the pass protection was also huge. Bradlee Anae is the best defensive lineman in the conference, but he was a non-factor. Give Penei Sewell credit for that. Overall Herbert largely had all day to stand in the pocket and scan the field.
Against a strong defensive front, nothing more could’ve been asked from this offensive line. And if someone tries to tell you this offensive line is overrated, they are simply wrong.
The Passing Game Deserves a Shoutout
The passing game had been bad in the last few weeks. Herbert had been off, and something just seemed amiss. In this game, Marcus Arroyo broke out some new wrinkles, and Herbert looked poised, and he was able to put touch on throws when needed, which isn’t something that’s always been the case.
The main play that stands out as him doing something he hasn’t done was the 50-yard completion to Juwan Johnson. Usually, on a play-action rollout like that, Herbert doesn’t scan the field. If his first read isn’t open he usually throws it into the ground. However, on that play, he kept his poise, continued to look over the field, and found Johnson deep. He also put touch on the ball and hit him in stride.
Another great play was the double-move by Johnny Johnson III. He was able to leave a nickel defender in the dust, but Herbert also did a great job of moving the defense with his shoulders and then moving the safety in the middle of the field with his eyes. And then he finished off the play by hitting Johnson in stride.
The throw was not a difficult one, but the maneuvering of the defense was NFL-level stuff.
Herbert deserves credit for bouncing back, and Johnny Johnson III deserves a special shoutout for his bounce-back season after the tough sophomore season he had last year. He has shown up and been a go-to receiver when Oregon has needed it with players coming in and out of the rotation at receiver and tight end.
Oregon Beats Utah: Overall Thoughts
This was a whole team effort. The coaching staff clearly had the team ready for the game, and the players went out and executed. Oregon is clearly not going to be intimidated by any team being physical under Mario Cristobal.
The fact that Oregon also managed to win the conference in Cristobal’s second season as the head coach with the way recruiting is going, Oregon fans should be more than thrilled with the direction of the program.
It was also cool to see this group of seniors, who were part of a 4-8 team their freshman season, to win the conference their senior season. They also deserve so much credit for sticking with it, having to go through three different head coaches during their careers.
This program is on a great trajectory, and shouldn’t be going anywhere in terms of contending in the conference.
This was also the 20th win of Mario Cristobal’s head coaching tenure at Oregon.
Top Photo: Tony Avelar/Associated Press