Another big win for the Utah Utes is in the books and a bye week to rest and recalibrate for another road trial waits. Although this Utah team is now ranked in the top 25 for the first time in four years, their next game against unranked Oregon State scares me more than some of the more daunting looking matchups on their schedule like USC and Stanford (where I think Utah matches up really well). The Beaver offense, defense, and environment all contribute to my trepidation.
Oregon State has the one of the worst rushing offenses in the Pac12 statistically, second only to Utah’s Achilles heel – Washington State. The Beavers will likely not even try to run against the Utes who boast the best rushing defense in the conference. If I were Coach Reilly, I would game plan to exploit the lack of depth that the Utes exhibit over the top and hope that Utah star safety Tevin Carter will not be available to play. Mannion had 443 yards passing against Utah last year and he will look to be doing the same this year (albeit without his favorite target in Brandin Cooks). The Utes should be afraid of any air raid attack and will need to take this offense very seriously in order to survive. Utah simply does not have enough offensive fire power to get into a shootout. The Ute secondary will need to last four quarters and shut down the Beaver receivers in order to get the win here – something that is much easier said than done. Mannion is a very dangerous, NFL ready, pocket passer and he scares me.
Oregon State has the second best total defense in the Pac12, right next to the extremely stout Stanford that sits upon the top of the conference. However, it is worthy to note that their defensive statistics drop off significantly when you only factor in games played vs Power 5 schools. Their rushing defense is middle of the Pac, but if last season is any indication, they struggle vs the zone read – something Kendall Thompson could likely exploit should he get the start. Additionally, when only looking at rushing defensive statistics versus Power 5 teams, Oregon State is worse than both Washington State and UCLA, another good sign that the Utes may be able to pound the thunder and lightning considering they had exceptional rushing games against both those teams. However, I expect that the Utes will have to continue to attempt to connect deep with Dres Anderson to keep the Beavers honest which will be a test considering Oregon State considers their secondary to be the strength of their defense. If the Utes aren’t able to get the passing game going – something that I legitimately fear – a one dimensional offense is easy to game plan for and Coach Reilly is too smart to be beaten by it.
The Beavers plan to support Breast Cancer Awareness Month during the Utah game and will be giving away 1,000 free tickets for families touched by any form of cancer. OSU fans are encouraged to interact with the cause using hashtag #DamCancer. Any campaign such as this tends to elicit incredible fan support and will likely get the stadium fired up for this game. Although the Utes played well in both their road wins this year, away games have not been their strength in the past. I fear that the Utes will break down on a big stage with extra distractions around them.