Utah and Oregon meet in a crucial matchup late in the season for the second consecutive year with Pac-12 supremacy on the line Saturday at Eugene, Ore.
The Utes routed Oregon 38-7 last November at Salt Lake City, effectively putting an end to the Ducks’ College Football Playoff hopes. Oregon entered that game as the No. 4 team, and a win all but assured a spot in the CFP semifinals.
Utah emerged as the Pac-12 South’s representative in the conference title game against Oregon, which won the Pac-12 North. The Utes beat the Ducks again to claim the title and a bid to the Rose Bowl.
Divisions were scrapped by the Pac-12 in 2022, with the top two teams in the conference placed in the league title game.
No. 10 Utah (8-2, 6-1 Pac-12) enters Saturday’s game as the higher-ranked team in the CFP. Oregon (8-2, 6-1) is rated No. 12.
The Utes have been a regular November contender, chasing a spot in the conference championship game in six of the last eight seasons.
“We’ve been in the hunt for a lot of years deep into the season,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “It speaks to the talent and just the competitiveness of our players. You go back and why do we have those type of players? Because our assistant coaches do such a great job of bringing in the right type of player into this program.”
Utah has won four straight games — three at home — including a 43-42 win over No. 7 USC on Oct. 15.
Oregon is coming off a 37-34 loss at home against Washington, snapping the Ducks’ eight-game winning streak after their opening defeat to Georgia, the No. 1 team in the country in this week’s poll.
The Ducks allowed 522 yards of total offense to Washington, including 408 passing yards by Michael Penix Jr. The Huskies converted 5 of their 9 third-down attempts and forced only one punt. They allowed scores on seven of nine offensive drives for Washington.
“What’s the hard truth? We’re not playing well on defense right now,” said Oregon coach Dan Lanning, who was the defensive coordinator at Georgia before hired to lead the Ducks this season.
“I don’t think it takes a lot of people to look at that and see it,” he continued about Oregon’s defensive shortcomings against Washington.
Oregon’s primary concern might be the secondary, where players have shifted to new roles on the fly.
Safety Trikweze Bridges was moved to cornerback. Safeties Bennett Williams and Jamal Hill together have played together more with Bryan Addison sometimes joining them on nickel packages.
The Ducks tried placing top cornerback Christian Gonzalez closer to the line and moving Bridges and Dontae Manning to the outside. Those experiments are likely to continue.
“Even though the result doesn’t always change, that doesn’t mean you can’t change your approach,” Lanning said. “And I’m going to continue to look for ways to change the approach as we move forward.”
Utah’s Cameron Rising will lead the Utes against the makeshift Oregon defense.
The reigning All-Pac-12 quarterback has completed 181 passes in 273 attempts for 2,225 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions.
–Field Level Media