Utah and Oregon have taken much different paths since the two teams played a season ago. The Utes have quietly established themselves as a legitimate Pac-12 South title contender. The Ducks, on the other hand, are no longer soaring above the Pac-12 North.
When Utah hosts Oregon on Saturday, the stakes are much higher for the No. 12 Utes than a year ago. Utah (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) needs a victory to give itself a chance to clinch a division title when it plays Colorado on Thanksgiving weekend. The Ducks (3-7, 1-6 Pac-12) are relegated to acting as a spoiler at this point, having lost seven of eight games since a 2-0 start.
Oregon leads the all-time series 20-9. The Utes won the most recent matchup, demolishing the Ducks 62-20 in Eugene a year ago for their first Pac-12 victory over Oregon. Utah last beat Oregon in Salt Lake City in 2003, edging the Ducks 17-13 in Urban Meyer's debut season with the Utes.
Oregon at Utah
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. ET
TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Utah -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Hunter Dimick claim Utah's career sack record?
Dimick is coming off of one of the finest single-game performances ever by a Utah defensive player. Dimick tied a Pac-12 record and set a school record with five sacks in the Utes' 49-26 win over Arizona State last Thursday. He also set another school record with 6.5 tackles for a loss and helped Utah total a school record 22 tackles for a loss.
Dimick's single-game sack total is tied for third most in NCAA history and his TFL total was the sixth-most all-time in the NCAA. The senior defensive end is the nation's leader in sacks (12) and ranks third in tackles for a loss (17.5). He now has 27 career sacks and needs just one more to pass John Frank as Utah's career leader.
It's a meaningful accomplishment for Dimick after injuries limited him to seven games last season. He has played angry, wanting to give everything he has after missing so much time as a junior.
“You just can't make up lost time,” Dimick said. “It's always going to be one of those things you kind of look back at and it bugs you and frustrates you. But I guess it's paid some dividends in the fact I that I feel worked a lot harder. You realize how much you take things for granted when they're taken away from you. I've always been a hard worker, but this year I really didn't leave anything left in the tank.”
2. How will Oregon's shorthanded defensive line fare against the Utes?
One reason that Oregon's season has gone off the rails is a defense that can't stop any opponent from scoring. The Ducks have allowed 49.4 points per game in Pac-12 play and have held just three league opponents under 50 points. Oregon ranks in the bottom 10 nationally in scoring defense (43.5 ppg), rushing defense (243.0 ypg), passing defense (292.7) and total defense (535.7).
Things won't get any easier against Utah with the Ducks' already thin defensive line taking another blow. Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich dismissed starting defensive tackle Austin Maloata from the team on Sunday following a DUI arrest.
Oregon already suspended defensive ends Torrodney Prevot and Eddie Heard earlier. Defensive tackles Canton Kaumatule and Ratu Mafileo both medically retired and defensive tackle Drayton Carlberg is sidelined with an injury.
3. Will Joe Williams eclipse 1,000 rushing yards by halftime?
What Williams continues to do in Utah's backfield since coming back from a four-game retirement is nothing short of amazing. The senior has averaged 216 total yards per game and scored eight touchdowns since his return. In just six games, he has totaled 939 rushing yards and is averaging 7.0 yards per carry.
Williams currently ranks third in rushing yards in the Pac-12 behind Christian McCaffrey and Myles Gaskin. He needs just 61 yards to become the 13th player at Utah to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. At his current pace, Williams is averaging 156.5 rushing yards per game and is on track to shatter the single-season school record. The current record is 137.0 yards per game, set by Carl Monroe in 1982.
“He's maybe the most explosive and the fastest of any of the backs we've had here as far as a home run-type back that can go the distance from anywhere on the field,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The odds are favorable for Williams breaking the record quickly on Saturday. No team from outside the state of Utah has held him to fewer than 100 rushing yards in a game since he became a starter late last season.
Utah is now in the role Oregon once occupied as a Pac-12 title contender. The Utes should have little trouble enhancing that status against the Ducks. Oregon's defense has proven unable to slow down any offense it faces and Utah possesses more than enough weapons on that side of the ball to make it a long four quarters for the Ducks.
Prediction: Utah 49, Oregon 31
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.