That's a tough question for the Utes (0-2, 0-2 Pac-12) to answer after falling to No. 20 USC and No. 22 Washington in back-to-back weeks. The 24-21 defeat to the Huskies particularly stung. Utah blew a 21-0 halftime lead amid a flurry of second-half turnovers and late defensive breakdowns. Turnovers are a recurring problem for the Utes so far in 2020. Utah has coughed up the ball nine times in two games. It took the Utes nine games last season before they totaled nine turnovers.
The Beavers (2-2, 2-2) know what it feels like to endure painfully close losses. Oregon State came up short in consecutive weeks against Washington and Washington State. But the Beavers also finally broke through with back-to-back wins. Oregon State reached .500 after holding off Oregon last week, winning 41-38 and spoiling the Ducks' long-shot College Football Playoff hopes. It gave the Beavers their first victory over their in-state rival since 2016.
Oregon State holds a 11-10-1 lead in the series with Utah. The Utes won 52-7 in Corvallis last season and are riding a four-game winning streak over the Beavers.
Oregon State at Utah
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Utah -11.0
When Oregon State Has the Ball
There's no question Jermar Jefferson has emerged as one of the top running backs in the nation. The junior has given the Beavers' offense some teeth with his ability to pound the ball and move the chains. In four games, Jefferson has piled up 675 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground and leads the Pac-12 in both categories. He is averaging a blistering 7.4 yards per carry. Jefferson enjoyed his best game of the season against Oregon, finishing with 226 yards. It was his first 200-yard game since his freshman season and the third one of his career.
Jefferson will be asked to shoulder a heavy load again with Tristan Gebbia potentially sidelined for the rest of the season. The junior quarterback threw for 263 yards and a touchdown against the Ducks before leaving late in the fourth quarter after suffering a hamstring injury. Chance Nolan will get the call in Gebbia's absence on Saturday. Gebbia being on the sidelines deals a significant blow to Oregon State's offense and will allow Utah to focus more on stopping the run. He threw for 824 yards and three touchdowns this season, while completing 62.0 percent of his passes.
When Utah Has the Ball
The good news is that Utah's young defense has shown promise and a growing ability to be dominant in defending the run and forcing turnovers that will only get better as the unit gains experience. On the other hand, progress is much more limited for the Utes' offense. Utah ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in scoring offense (19.0 ppg) and is 11th in total offense (343.0 ypg) as well as passing offense (180.0 ypg).
Ty Jordan is a bright spot at running back. Jordan, a true freshman, is averaging 7.6 yards per carry through two games. Getting him more touches will be important for the Utes going forward. Jordan is only averaging 8.5 rushing attempts per game. While time is still being split between him, Devin Brumfield, and Jordan Wilmore for now, Jordan seems destined to emerge as Utah's next star in the backfield.
Struggles in the passing game can be attributed to poor decision-making from Jake Bentley. The senior quarterback has already racked up four interceptions in two games and is averaging just 157.5 passing yards per contest. Star tight end Brant Kuithe has been underutilized to this point in the season, tallying eight receptions for just 46 yards. Three other players — Jordan, Bryan Thompson, and Solomon Enis — have five catches apiece over two games. Utah needs to be able to pose a threat in the passing game to keep Oregon State's defense honest.
Utah is only allowing 90.5 rushing yards per game, the fewest among Pac-12 teams. Jermar Jefferson will certainly test the Utes' run defense, but the Beavers will likely need to get things going early through the air to sustain drives. That could become tricky with Tristan Gebba no longer available because of injury. If the Utes can eliminate their mental mistakes, they are capable of grinding out a close victory at home.
Prediction: Utah 24, Oregon State 21
Podcast: Coaching Carousel and Week 14 Preview and Predictions
— 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.
(Jermar Jefferson photo courtesy of @BeaverFootball)