Ducks upbeat as No. 18 Utah comes to town for a big test
EUGENE — While the Oregon Ducks have rebounded from their season-opening loss and the drama surrounding running back LeGarrette Blount, they face No. 18 Utah and its 16-game winning streak at a crossroads.
A win today at Autzen Stadium could go a long way toward establishing the identity of a team that entered the season ranked No. 16 and was considered an offensive force. A loss and Oregon is just a team with flashy uniforms.
The Ducks had a very visible nose-dive to open the season, an embarrassing 19-8 loss at Boise State on national television. Adding to the insult was the punch that Blount landed on Broncos' defensive end Byron Hout following the game.
Blount, the team's top returning rusher, was suspended for the rest of the season, but Oregon regrouped to beat Purdue 38-36 at home last weekend.
"We feel a lot better than last week," quarterback Jeremiah Masoli said. "We were down from that Boise game, but we came back out and proved ourselves. I think our confidence and our self-esteem is real up there right now."
The morale boost aside, the Ducks will have to show marked improvement to beat Utah.
"They've won 16 in a row, including some against quality opponents," Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews said. "They're a talented team with great coaching. I wouldn't call that lucky. That's just great players and great coaching and just a team that knows how to win."
But while Utah boasts the nation's longest active winning streak, the Utes (2-0) have their own work to do, evident in last weekend's struggle against San Jose State.
Utah couldn't score in the red zone and went into the fourth quarter against the Spartans tied at 7. That echoed the opener, when Utah State stopped the Utes on three straight plays at the 1-yard line.
The Utes also missed three field goal attempts and fumbled twice in San Jose but emerged with a 24-14 victory. They defeated Utah State 35-17 the week before.
Despite the struggles, it's certainly not panic time for the Utes. Utah has still averaged 509 yards of offense while holding the first two opponents to an average of 303.
"You can't just be positive all the time. You have to know what you need to work on," receiver Jerome Brooks said. "But in the same way, you can't just be negative. I mean, we are 2-0, which is the greatest thing that can happen right now."
The Utes face a team still trying to figure out how to replace Blount, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.
Right now, the Ducks are rotating a trio, redshirt freshmen LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner and senior Andre Crenshaw.
Masoli led all Oregon rushers last weekend with 84 yards and a touchdown. James contributed 56 yards rushing, while Barner and Crenshaw each ran for a score. Oregon totaled 193 yards on the ground, up from the 31 they had against the Broncos.
"We have a lot of momentum. Utah is a great team and they haven't lost since I don't know when, but they're coming to Autzen Stadium and I hope we can get a win," James said.
The Ducks have won 28 of their last 30 nonconference games at Autzen.
Both teams are dealing with a few injuries.
For the Ducks, safety T.J. Ward injured his ankle against Boise State and did not play against Purdue. He was out of a protective boot but still not practicing earlier this week.
Utah running back Matt Asiata is questionable with a shoulder injury, as is guard Caleb Schlauderaff, who has a knee injury.