Oregon’s offensive line had a very poor game against Stanford. Marcus Mariota was sacked three times and harassed all night. The Ducks running game was limited to a season-worst 62 yards on 24 carries, 2.4 per attempt.
Utah is second in the country with 33 sacks in just 9 games, a FBS-leading 3.67 per game. They blitz well. They feature two big defensive tackles and active linebackers. With quarterback Marcus Mariota wearing a knee brace, the offensive line has to do a better job protecting him.
Byron Marshall has 925 yards rushing and could go over the 1,000-yard plateau. The Utes have held opponents to just 3.5 yards per rush on the season, but they’re giving up 240 yards a game through the air, and they’ve only picked off two passes all season.
Utes starting quarterback Tyler Wilson did not travel with the team. He’s home after suffering a concussion last week. Adam Schultz starts in his place, a 6-1, 205-lb. sophomore from Muskego, Wisconsin who has appeared in just 4 games in his career, all in mop-up duty. This season he’s 22-45, 48.9%, 1 td and 1 int. Running back Kevin York is also out injured, leaving the offense in the hands of Bubba Poole, a 6-0, 196-lb. tailback from Las Vegas, Nevada, 538 yards, 4.4 a carry. Poole did have his best game of the year against Stanford, running for 111 yards.
With cold, wet weather and an inexperienced quarterback, Kyle Whittingham is likely to challenge his offensive line and defense to keep Utah in the game. Oregon has to stop the run, and and find the running game they misplaced in Palo Alto, get closer to the 300-yards-a-game pace they maintained through the first 8 games of the season.
Just tonight during ESPN’s coverage of the UCLA-Washington game, analyst Danny Kannell rated the top ten quarterbacks in college football. He named A.J. McCarron, Bryce Petty and Derek Carr as his top 3. Marcus Mariota, who hasn’t thrown an interception in 327 attempts over the last two seasons, 2531 yards passing and 22 touchdowns, 495 yards rushing and 9 more touchdowns, didn’t make the list.
Anything the Ducks do against Utah will be immediately discounted in Bristol. But the Ducks need to get back in rhythm and play with purpose. A 9-1 record and the opportunity to play in a good bowl game are motivation enough. For Mariota and the Ducks, this is about playing football and enjoying the game again. Executing the way they are capable of, they should dominate this game.
Ironically, Marcus Mariota is a way better quarterback than Danny Kannell ever was. Kannell threw 26 interceptions in two years as the starter at Florida State. In his senior year he threw for 2937 yards, with 32 tds, 13 ints. He was a backup on a National Championship team in 1993, 20-3-1 in 1994-95, finishing fourth in the country twice as a starter.