Offensive imbalance could be trouble for Utes
EUGENE — Utah began the season with a reliable starter at quarterback and an unknown at running back.
Those roles have reversed throughout the season as the 20th-ranked Utes (6-2) prepare to host No. 5 Oregon (8-1) Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Utah running back Devontae Booker, who did not play last year in junior college because of academic reasons, ranks second in his first run through the Pac-12 Conference with an average of 123.8 rushing yards per game. The 5-foot-11, 203-pound junior ranks 11th nationally with 990 yards and has run for at least 100 yards in five straight games.
“I think he’s the best running back we’ve gone against,” Oregon defensive lineman Sam Kamp said. “He’s very explosive and fast. He gives them momentum. He is a tough guy.”
Junior quarterback Travis Wilson, who threw for 1,827 yards and 16 touchdowns in nine games last year, has 1,084 passing yards and nine touchdowns in eight games this season. He is listed as the co-starter this week on the depth chart with Kendel Thompson, who replaced Wilson as the starter during a victory over Oregon State last month.
The two quarterbacks have combined to complete 57 percent of their passes for 185.7 yards per game, and the Utes rank last in the conference in passing yards.
“We are searching for answers every week in that regard,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I think it is a combination that we haven’t done a good job getting separation on the outside and we are not accurate enough with our throws or sound enough in protection. We have to get it solved. We are going into the last third of the season and we are pretty one-dimensional. Thank goodness for Devontae Booker, he’s been a huge blessing for us.”
Utah has run for 1,585 yards and passed for 1,402 on the season. Dres Anderson, who had 22 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns in seven games, is out for the season following knee surgery.
“We would much rather have a balanced attack, closer to 50-50,” Whittingham said. “Going into the season we envisioned ourselves being more balanced, but unfortunately the throwing game hasn’t come to fruition. We have been fortunate that the running game has been better than we thought because we’re not as productive throwing the ball. We have to be better at throwing the ball, no question about it.”
Oregon defensive coordinator Don Pellum said the Ducks are preparing Saturday to see plenty of Booker.
“We’re nine games in, so I think we’re going to go off what we see on film,” he said. “Obviously, we have different packages for different passing scenarios, but they do a tremendous job running the ball and we have to be prepared to stop the run.”