This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The play lives on in infamy, a yard short of the goal line, a dropped ball and a tremendous shift in momentum. Kaelin Clay's touchdown catch and a 14-0 lead turned into a fumble recovery touchdown for No. 4 Oregon, which cruised to a 51-27 over Utah last season following his mistake. But as Pac-12 play begins this week, the No. 18 Utes get a shot at redemption, traveling to face No. 13 Oregon in Eugene. Here's a position-by-position look at this week's matchup and which team will have the edge heading into Saturday's game:
Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson? Another week, another secretive approach from the Utes. Thompson started last week and had a mixed bag performance against a lowly Fresno State team. Thompson had 159 yards passing and a touchdown, but also threw an interception deep in the red zone at Fresno State's 13-yard line. He started last season against the Ducks before suffering a season-ending injury, Wilson taking over to finish with 297 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Whoever starts, the Utes desperately need some big plays out of the passing game to keep Oregon's defense from clamping down on the run.
Oregon starter Vernon Adams was held out of the Ducks' 61-28 win over Georgia State with a finger injury, backup Jeff Lockie throwing for 228 yards and two scores in his place. However, Kyle Whittingham said earlier this week he's expecting Adams to start. Adams is more of a running threat than prolific passer, but he still racked up 309 yards through the air against a stingy Michigan State defense two weeks ago. The Utes will have to contain him if he tries to escape to the edges and attempt to force a couple of turnovers from Adams to stay in this one.
Utah's run blocking appears to be hitting its stride at the right time after Devontae Booker rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns against the Bulldogs on 31 carries. However, the Ducks are still in the top half of the Pac-12 in run defense, surrendering just over 140 yards per game and four total touchdowns this season. Booker will have to do it all for Utah this week, shouldering the offensive load to keep Oregon's offense off the field and serving as an outlet in the passing game. The Utes need at least 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns from him this week.
Another year, another dominant Oregon rushing offense. The Ducks are second in the Pac-12 with 919 yards, 11 touchdowns and a staggering 306 yards per game through three weeks. Royce Freeman is the star with 373 yards and five touchdowns, but the Ducks have a bevy of options in Taj Griffin, Kani Benoit and Tony Brooks-James, plus Adams is a threat to take off at any time. No disrespect to Booker, but the Ducks have a clear edge here.
The Utes wide receivers had a rough day at the office last week, Booker actually leading the team with five catches for 56 yards. Siale Fakailoatonga got more involved with three catches for 45 yards, but the outside receivers were largely anonymous for the third straight week. Early season star Britain Covey was also held to his lowest totals of the season with three catches for eight yards. The Utes need a breakout performance from Kenneth Scott and a healthy dose of Covey in this game to keep pace with Oregon.
Oregon's wide receivers haven't made a huge mark on the season either, but they're a notch ahead of Utah. Bralon Addison leads the team with 13 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown, with Dwayne Stanford close behind at six catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. Byron Marshall and Charles Nelson are options as well, but no Ducks receiver is averaging more than 64 yards per contest. This will be a close battle for both teams.
Along with the run blocking surge last week, the Utes have quietly done a great job of keeping their quarterbacks off the turf. Through three games, opponents have only generated one sack for a loss of six yards, second to UCLA in the Pac-12. Oregon has six sacks this season, but four came against Georgia State's offensive line. Utah is set up to have success this week against the Ducks' pass rush.
Oregon's offensive line's biggest weakness so far this season is surrendering sacks. The Ducks were manhandled by Michigan State, giving up four of the six sacks they've surrendered this season, a good sign for Utah. The Utes are still stuck on a dumbfounding total of three for the season, but have potential to rack up a few on Adams.
Defensive line and linebackers
The Utes don't need to be spectacular against the Ducks, but they need to be solid in every area and avoid the complacency that showed up during the final quarter against Fresno State. The pass rush will need to exploit the same gaps Michigan State found. The linebackers will have to be patient to keep Adams from breaking containment and Freeman from running wild. If Utah's front seven can force Adams into a couple of turnovers and hold Freeman to under 125 yards rushing, they'll be in good shape. If not, it could be a long evening and the Utes won't be able to keep up in a shootout.
The key to Oregon's defense rests with lineman De'Forest Buckner. The consensus top-10 NFL prospect is a force, racking up 15 tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in three games. Behind him are talented linebackers Christian French, Joe Walker and Tyson Coleman, who have a combined 47 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. The Ducks have speed, size and strength in the defensive front seven that the Utes haven't seen this season.
The Utes surrendered an alarming 241 yards in the air against Fresno State, a team working on a timeshare between two quarterbacks and without any kind of true receiving threat. More concerning was the passing completions went for an average of 14 yards, the kind of big plays that will get Utah into trouble against Oregon's offense. The Utes are second to last in the Pac-12 in pass defense with 259 yards surrendered per game. Luckily for them, they face the worst pass defense in the conference this week.
The Ducks have had a rough time defending the pass, giving up 316 yards per game and a staggering 10 touchdowns through three weeks. Granted, Eastern Washington's and Michigan State's passing attacks are strong, but it's still a concern. The Utes will have a chance and will need to exploit holes in Oregon's secondary to stay in this game. Safety Tyree Robinson, who has two interceptions this season, and cornerback Arrion Springs, who is second on the team with 22 tackles, are players to watch.
Prediction: Oregon is 23-2 in the last 25 games at Autzen Stadium and has the advantage in offensive firepower. The Utes are strong in the front seven, but the Ducks have a ton of weapons to account for. Oregon wins this game 42-23.