It's going to be another late night in Salt Lake City this Saturday when Utah hosts Oregon State in its final home game of the season. Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. MT and will be broadcast on ESPN.
This game pits two teams going in vastly different directions.
After missing the first two games of the year due to COVID-19 related issues, Utah (0-2) is still searching for its first win of the season.
The Utes have losses to USC (33-17) and Washington (24-21), arguably the two toughest teams in the Pac-12. But they also had leads in both of those games (3-0 vs. USC, 21-0 vs. Washington) and the total improvement showed from Week one to Week two was encouraging, albeit still ending in a loss.
Utah needs victories in its final three games of the season to become bowl-eligible, which at this point should be the goal of the program. Not only will it get the Utes an extra game this season, it will allow the team to practice an extra "X" amount of days, something they could really use considering their youth and inexperience.
OREGON STATE BREAKDOWN
Oregon State is coming off its biggest victory in arguably a decade, taking down then-ranked No. 15 Oregon 41-38 at home on Friday night. The Beavers (2-2) are now one win away from bowl eligibility, their first time since 2013.
Running back Jermar Jefferson is the main culprit for the turnaround this season, ranking second in the nation with 168.75 rushing yards per game. He ran all over Oregon's defense last week, finishing with 226 yards and tow touchdowns on 29 carries.
Oregon State very well could be 3-1 on the season and headed for the Pac-12 championship but a bad spot by officials in its game against Washington ultimately cost the Beavers the victory. However they've rebounded nicely with victories over Cal (31-27) and the Ducks in the previous two weeks.
Utah will enter Saturday on a four-game winning streak against Oregon State, earning victories in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019.
The Utes went to Corvallis last year and won 52-7 as former Utes Tyler Huntley, Zack Moss and a stout defense dominated the game by jumping out to a 52-0 lead.
A number of former players from both sides who had significant impacts in last season's game will be back for this year's contest.
Tight end Brant Kuithe caught a touchdown pass while running backs Jordan Wilmore and Devin Brumfield added scores on the ground. Center Orlando Umana was ejected for targeting — which was deemed a questionable call at best — while linebacker Devin Lloyd returned an interception 64 yards for a touchdown.
For the Beavers, quarterback Tristan Gebbia was the only reason they avoided the shutout as he threw a touchdown with 54 seconds remaining. He finished 5-fo-8 for 38 yards while adding a 5-yard rush. Jefferson missed the game last season with a serious ankle injury.
The main thing Utah will be looking for this week is consistency and taking care of the ball.
Through two games this season, the Utes have committed nine turnovers (five against USC, four against Washington), seven of which have come from quarterbacks Cam Rising and Bentley.
Bentley has been the biggest culprit this season, throwing two interceptions in each game thus far while losing a fumble against the Huskies. However, he has accounted for three total touchdowns this season as well.
“We’ve got to continue to learn from our mistakes. Our defense is doing a great job of getting the ball back for us,” Bentley said after the Washington game. “We’ve got to stop giving it back. That starts with me. It’s frustrating, for sure, because you feel like you let the team down.”
The defense has been phenomenal after the offense turns it over, only giving up scores on three of the nine possessions. More than anything though, the turnovers have been drive killers, taking points off the scoreboard.
“Those were backbreakers. Those two certainly didn’t help our cause. I firmly believe we probably would have scored when Ty fumbled there in the red zone,” Whittingham said. “But he did some really good things for us. He’s an electrifying player. I’m sure Jake wishes he had that throw (to Covey) back.”
The Utes must also find more consistency on offense, primarily getting the ball to Kuithe and their bevy of talented wide-receivers. Doing so will undoubtedly make Utah a multi-dimensional offense and very difficult to defend.
OREGON STATE ANALYSIS
The Beavers have found success this year behind a star player and surrounding role players just good enough to make a difference.
Jefferson is the stud, and if this was a full season would more-than-likely be garnering Heisman trophy consideration. The primary knock on Jefferson's game was his breakway speed, but he's shown that off with 75+ touchdown runs against Cal and Oregon the past two weeks, outrunning defensive backs who appeared to have the correct angles on him.
Gebbia has struggled this season but he's also done just enough to keep defenses from loading the box against Jefferson. His go-to targets are big tight ends Luke Musgrave and Teagan Quitoriano, who've combined for 16 catches and 203 yards this season. His primary target has been Trevon Bradford with 21 catches for 219 yards and a score.
The defense is led by former All-American Hamilcar Rashed Jr., albeit he's been struggling this season after facing multiple double teams. Linebacker Avery Roberts is averaging over 10 tackles a game while Jaydon Grant and Nahshon Wright each have two interceptions.
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