Oregon and Utah will stage a potential Pac-12 Championship Game preview when the two teams battle in Salt Lake City on Saturday.
The No. 3 Ducks (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) can clinch the Pac-12 North crown with a victory over the Utes. Oregon is in contention for a College Football Playoff spot largely because opponents can't stop the Ducks' running attack. Oregon is averaging 297.0 rushing yards per game over its last three games and has surpassed 250 on the ground in all three contests. The Ducks have scored 15 rushing touchdowns over their last four contests and are tied for second nationally with 31 total.
The No. 23 Utes (7-3, 6-1) will clinch a share of the Pac-12 South title if they beat the Ducks. A victory over Oregon will also give Kyle Whittingham his 142nd as head coach at Utah and help him pass Ike Armstrong to become the school's all-time winningest coach. The Utes have turned into an offensive juggernaut as the season has progressed. In Pac-12 play, Utah leads the league in scoring offense (38.4 ppg), touchdowns scored (36), total offense per game (466.3 ypg), and rushing touchdowns (24).
Oregon leads Utah 23-10 in the all-time series. The Ducks routed the Utes 37-15 when the two teams faced off in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship Game in their most recent meeting.
No. 3 Oregon at No. 23 Utah
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah -3.0
When Oregon Has the Ball
Travis Dye has been electric in the backfield for the Ducks in his senior season. Dye needs only 92 yards for his first 1,000-yard campaign. He is quite capable of getting there this weekend. Dye is only two weeks removed from gashing Washington for a career-best 211 rushing yards. He averaged 7.5 yards per carry against the Huskies.
Dye is far from the only running threat Utah needs to worry about. Byron Cardwell fell two yards shy of notching his second 100-yard game in three contests in Oregon's 38-24 win over Washington State last week. Cardwell has 280 yards and three touchdowns on the ground over his last three games. He is averaging 8.75 yards per carry in that stretch.
Anthony Brown is another dangerous playmaker who has been putting his dual-threat abilities on full display. He rushed for a career-high 123 yards against Washington State – becoming the first Oregon quarterback to gain more than 100 yards in a single game since Marcus Mariota in 2014. This outburst came two weeks after Brown threw for a career-best 307 yards and three touchdowns on 25-of-31 passing against Colorado.
When Utah Has the Ball
With Tavion Thomas likely to be sidelined again this week after sitting out of the Utes' 38-29 victory over Arizona last week, Utah will rely on a backfield tandem of TJ Pledger and Micah Bernard for a second consecutive week.
Pledger had his second straight 100-yard game after rushing for a season-high 119 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats. In his three 100-yard games, Pledger is averaging 8.8 yards per carry. His quickness makes him tough to bring down and helped the Utes weather the absence of Thomas a week ago.
Bernard is a dual threat as a runner and receiver. He has had a pair of 100-yard games as a rusher this season. The freshman back is also coming off his best receiving game, 60 yards on three catches against Arizona.
Quarterback Cameron Rising is the main catalyst that makes it all go, however, and stopping Rising will be Oregon's main concern. He threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns against Arizona while completing 63 percent of his passes. Rising has four 200-yard passing games in eight career starts. He also is a capable runner and performed well as an emergency punter against UCLA earlier this season. Rising may get called on to help the Utes in all three phases again this weekend.
Oregon has had Utah's number ever since the Utes joined the Pac-12 a decade ago. The Utes have struggled to match the speed and athleticism of the Ducks even in their best years. Will it change on Saturday? Utah has a decent shot at spoiling Oregon's playoff hopes. The Utes are tough as usual on defense, and they have their most potent offense in many years. One problem area is special teams. Utah has been ragged this season when it comes to punting and kicking. Ultimately, that will give Oregon an extra favorable possession or two and assure the Ducks of another close victory.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Utah 34
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– Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.