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Utah vs. Oregon State Football Prediction and Preview

Author:
Cameron Rising, Utah Utes Football

Cameron Rising and the surging Utes visit the Beavers in a matchup of teams with Pac-12 divisional title aspirations

Both Utah and Oregon State have a clear path toward a Pac-12 divisional title as they are set to battle on Saturday in Corvallis.

The Utes (4-2, 3-0 Pac-12) are alone in first place in the Pac-12 South and the only team that is still unbeaten in league play. Utah reeled off its third straight victory after beating Arizona State 35-21 last Saturday. The Utes scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to rally from a two-touchdown halftime deficit. Utah is averaging 430.3 yards per game during its three-game winning streak. Defensively, the Utes are leading the Pac-12 with 3.2 sacks per game and 46 tackles for a loss.

The Beavers (4-2, 2-1 Pac-12) are tied with Oregon atop the Pac-12 North. Oregon State rattled off four straight victories before falling to Washington State 31-24 two weeks ago. A proficient running attack has lifted the Beavers to contender status. Oregon State leads the Pac-12 in scoring offense (34.0 ppg) and ranks second in total offense (441.7 ypg).

The all-time series is tied at 11-11-1, although Utah has won five straight over Oregon State dating back to 2014. The Beavers have not beaten the Utes at home since 2012.

Utah at Oregon State

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: Pac-12 Networks
Spread: Utah -3

When Utah Has the Ball

How much has Utah's offense changed since beginning Pac-12 play? The Utes are becoming proficient at moving the chains even when their starting field position isn't favorable. Ten of Utah's last 13 scoring drives have covered 65 yards or longer, and the Utes have burned an average of 3:26 off the clock per scoring drive.

Cameron Rising has provided the main spark igniting Utah's offense. Rising is 3-0 as a starter, throwing for 690 yards and five touchdowns in that three-game stretch. He is completing 66.6 percent of his pass attempts against Pac-12 opponents this season. Tight ends Dalton Kincaid and Brant Kuithe have quickly become Rising's favorite targets. The duo has combined for 460 yards and six touchdowns on 39 catches at the season's midway point. Devaughn Vele is also emerging as a reliable downfield threat with 141 yards and a touchdown on seven catches over his last two games.

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Tavion Thomas seems to be emerging as the lead back from Utah's crowded backfield. Thomas has been dominant in his last two games for the Utes, totaling 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns over that stretch. Thomas is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on the season and has averaged seven yards or better per carry in two games. TJ Pledger and Micah Bernard are still in the mix as pass catchers and change-of-pace backs.

When Oregon State Has the Ball

Losing to Washington State did not diminish what the Beavers have done on offense to this point. Oregon State is enjoying so much success, in large part, because B.J. Baylor has transformed into an imposing running threat.

Baylor leads the Pac-12 with 112.8 rushing yards per game and nine rushing touchdowns. He has tallied three straight 100-yard games and is averaging 6.8 yards per carry this season. Oregon State is 3-1 this season when Baylor rushes for at least 100 yards. But he isn't the only one making plays in the backfield. DeShaun Fenwick has come on strong as the season has progressed. Fenwick totaled a career-high 127 rushing yards against Washington State — his third career 100-yard game.

Chance Nolan took a step backward against the Cougars. He completed just 44 percent of his pass attempts and threw for 158 yards. Nolan also had a pair of interceptions, marking the third straight game where he has thrown at least one interception. This comes on the heels of totaling 48 yards and an interception on 7-of-15 passing against Washington a week earlier. Nolan will have to find a way to be more productive for Oregon State to get back in the win column.

Final Analysis

This promises to be a rugged battle between two good football teams. Utah has made major strides on offense since making a switch at quarterback, becoming more dynamic and explosive in the passing game. Oregon State has been steady in grinding down opponents with a relentless running attack. The Utes have shown improvement in defending the run as the season has progressed and that should help them edge the Beavers in a game that goes down to the wire.

Prediction: Utah 31, Oregon State 24

Podcast: Previewing Week 8 + CFB Expansion + Washington State Coaching Search

Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sports journalist based in Utah. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.