Ducks look in mirror and see Utes
After seeing an unanticipated dismal offensive performance at Boise State and a slightly better one against Purdue, Oregon players and coaches say it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to expect that the offense is due for a big game this week against No. 18 Utah.
Oregon scored only one offensive touchdown in the season-opener and bounced back with three rushing scores last week against the Boilermakers, but junior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has yet to reach the end zone passing. And now that the offense has had some solid playing time to familiarize itself with the complex scheme that is Chip Kelly’s zone read-option, should be able to find their way through the air against the Utes’ defense.
The two offenses are similar in that they both try to spread the field and get the ball to several different players, while both teams also feature explosively mobile quarterbacks.
“They have a 16-game winning streak coming in,” Kelly said. “They’ve got a lot of proven players back on both sides of the ball that have been a huge part of that.”
Masoli has totaled 98 yards rushing and two touchdowns while going 25-for-48 for 284 yards through the air with only one interception this season. Utah quarterback Terrance Cain, on the other hand, has tallied 91 yards rushing while going 38-for-61 passing for 534 yards and three touchdowns. He too has thrown only one interception.
Cain, a junior college transfer, was a First-Team All-American and the NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year in 2008, passing for more than 3,100 yards and 29 touchdowns for Blinn College in Brenham, Texas.
“They’re kind of like our offense,” Oregon senior cornerback Walter Thurmond III said. “They like to spread the ball around and their quarterback is very mobile like Jeremiah is. We have to apply pressure on him or he’s going to run for big gains.”
Thurmond III also commented on how similar the two teams’ receiving corps are; each feature a tall receiver who can outjump smaller defensive backs, while also having smaller and much quicker guys who are dangerous on the outside.
“We get a great look in practice to see how Utah’s receivers are (going to play),”
said Thurmond III.
David Reed, Jereme Brooks and John Peel have each recorded a touchdown on more than 100 yards receiving through the first two games. Reed, who is a versatile kick returner for the Utes, has pulled down 15 receptions for 234 yards and looks to be Cain’s favorite target early on.
Defensively, the Ducks will have their hands full with the Ute running game and senior running back Matt Asiata. Asiata has rushed the ball 56 times for 250 yards and three touchdowns so far this season, while also reeling in five receptions for 47 yards.
“They play very, very hard,” Oregon head coach Chip Kelly said. “There’s really not a weakness on that team. The one thing we’re fortunate about is that we have them at home. We expect a battle.”
Matching up against Utah’s powerful offense will be junior linebackers Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews. Both have done exceptionally well through the first two games, recording 32 total tackles combined, while the secondary has shined in tackling as well. Sophomore rover Javes Lewis, freshman free safety John Boyett and Thurmond III rank among the top-five on the team in takedowns with 15, 14 and 14, respectively.
“We know they’re similar to our offense,” Paysinger said. “So it allows us to go against our offense in real-life situations because they do run the read, and they do have similar techniques as ourselves.”
The Duck defense accounted for two touchdowns last weekend with Thurmond III’s interception return and Lewis’ fumble recovery, and they hope to do the same against the strong Utah offense.
“It’s who plays harder,” Kelly said. “And when you play a similar opponent it’s going to come down to the kicking game and turnovers.
“Utah played in the Sugar Bowl,” he said. “I think they’ve played in some big games. I don’t think this is their first rodeo.”
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