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Utah Utes vs. Oregon Ducks Preview and Prediction

Author:
Braxton Burmeister

Braxton Burmeister

Both Utah and Oregon are in search of an offensive identity. A lack of offensive firepower has contributed to a three-game slide for both teams ahead of their matchup at Autzen Stadium this week.

Utah Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham

The Utes (4-3, 1-3 Pac-12) were dominated on both sides of the ball in a 30-10 loss to Arizona State last week. Utah totaled just 265 yards and coughed up four turnovers to the Sun Devils. Tyler Huntley played for the first time in three games, but looked rusty after having limited reps in practice leading up to the game.

“Right now we are still searching for who we are,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “That is concerning when we are seven games in. I am asking the same question. We have to find out what we do best and hitch our wagon to that and go in that direction."

It's a similar story for the Ducks. Oregon (4-4, 1-4 Pac-12) hasn't been the same since Justin Herbert fractured his collarbone. The Ducks have totaled 31 points in their last three games combined. They have averaged 302 total yards in that stretch after totaling more than 400 yards in each of their first five contests.

Oregon holds a 21-9 lead in the all-time series with Utah. The Ducks fell to the Utes 62-20 in Eugene in 2015 before upsetting Utah 30-28 in Salt Lake City a year ago.

Utah at Oregon

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 5:45 p.m. ET

TV Channel: Pac-12 Networks

Spread: Utah –3.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Utah tighten up its rush defense?

Stopping the run has been Utah's bread and butter on defense for many seasons. In the last four games, run defense has transformed from a strength to a weakness for the Utes.

Utah has given up 775 total rushing yards on an average of 5.1 yards per carry in Pac-12 play. This is a surprising development after the Utes led the league in rush defense through their first three games of the season. It could be problematic going against an Oregon team that's averaging 220.4 yards on the ground against Pac-12 opponents.

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Injuries along the defensive line are partially to blame for some of it. Defensive ends Bradlee Anae and Kylie Fitts have both been banged up with injuries. Fitts, in particular, has missed one game and seen limited action in four others. Even with their injury troubles, Fitts and Anae are tied for the team lead in sacks (2.0). Anae also leads the Utes with two fumbles recovered and is second in tackles for a loss (3.0).

2. Will Oregon solve second-half woes?

Coming out flat after halftime has become a recurring nightmare for Oregon's offense. It has cost the Ducks big time during their current three-game slide.

Oregon been outscored 58-0 during the third and fourth quarter over the team's last three games. The Ducks have generated just 56 total second-half points through eight games and 35 of those points came against FCS opponent Southern Utah in the season opener.

Last week's loss to UCLA encapsulated just how futile things have become for Oregon after halftime.

The Ducks had their final third quarter drive end with Colin Samuel intercepting a pass from Braxton Burmeister at the UCLA 4-yard line. One fourth quarter ended in a missed 32-yard field goal attempt from Aidan Schneider while another resulted in a turnover on downs after Burmeister fumbled on 4th-and-1 and recovered the ball for a four-yard loss.

3. Quarterback health

Both Utah and Oregon have rowed the same boat when it comes to dealing with keeping quarterbacks healthy. The Utes just had Tyler Huntley return last week after a two-game absence. Meanwhile, Justin Herbert, began participating in some drills in practice for the Ducks this week. It's been tough sledding for both teams without their stars.

With Huntley on the sidelines, Utah suffered close losses to Stanford and USC and struggled to move the ball at critical junctures in both games. The sophomore's return didn't revive the sleepwalking offense. Huntley tossed four interceptions and totaled just 155 passing yards against Arizona State.

Burmeister has filled in for Herbert since he suffered a fractured collarbone against California. It's been a rough stretch for the freshman. In his three starts, Burmeister has totaled just 242 passing yards while throwing five interceptions and has completed only 52 percent of his passes.

Final Analysis

Both Utah and Oregon are in a desperate situation with each program trying to dig its way out of a three-game losing streak. The Ducks have had a lifeless offense without Herbert. The Utes have struggled on defense more than normal and reverted to mediocre offense since Huntley got injured. Still, Huntley is closer to full strength. If Utah can hold Oregon's backfield in check, it should be enough to walk out of Eugene as a winner for the second time in three seasons.

NCAAF Top 25 Rankings: Utah

Prediction: Utah 27, Oregon 20

— 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.