Utah won't be looking past Oregon
SALT LAKE CITY — Oregon has represented a bit of a benchmark for No. 11 Utah since the Utes entered the Pac-12 in 2011.
The Ducks won the conference three straight times between 2009 and 2011 and again in 2014.
They were the reigning champions last year when Utah went into Eugene and upset Oregon 62-20 for its most significant win since joining the league.
Now the Ducks (3-7, 1-6 Pac-12) are in the midst of their worst season since 2006 and the Utes are approaching another milestone. Utah (8-2, 5-2, No. 12 CFP) will win the South Division for the first time in school history and play in its first Pac-12 championship game if it wins the final two games of the season, starting Saturday with Oregon.
"There's not a chance that we'll be looking past those guys," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "Not a chance at all. They're very talented on offense. I mean, they're Oregon."
"They're going to be wanting to avenge that loss," he added. "We went into their house and had a big win. Certainly that's got to be on their mind. ... We're going to get their best shot. We know that and we better be ready."
In a role reversal, Oregon is coming in as an underdog. The Ducks are coming to the end of a disappointing season where even winning out would leave them shy of bowl eligibility.
The Utes are 13½-point favorites and some Ducks assistant coaches have talked about using that as motivation.
"I haven't directly said 'underdog' or really anything in that vein," Oregon coach Mark Helfrich said. "Again, we just need to play together and play better. Play the complimentary football we talked a little bit about over the weekend. But whatever can stoke their fire. If that gets the defensive backs ready to go, or gets the defense to play with a chip on their shoulder, great."
Things to watch when Utah hosts Oregon:
EYES ON FREEMAN: Royce Freeman comes into Salt Lake City as the Ducks' No. 2 all-time leading rusher with 3,800 career yards. The junior has run for 599 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He and the Oregon offense will face the No. 2 run defense in the Pac-12. The Utes are allowing just 119.7 yards per game.
NO CONCERNS: Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert said the offense doesn't need to do anything special this week against the Utah defense dubbed "Sack Lake City." That unit had 11 sacks last week and the Utes are tied for No. 5 in the nation with 35 sacks overall. Defensive end Hunter Dimick's 27 career sacks are one shy of the school record. "I don't think I'm going to have to be any more aware of them than I am every other week," Herbert said. "I don't think it's something we need to change dramatically."
CUP OF JOE: Utah running back Joe Williams has run for 939 yards in just six games, including 864 yards in the four games since he came out of retirement. He is 61 yards shy of becoming the 13th player in school history to run for 1,000 yards in a season and his 156.5 yards per game put him on pace for a school record.
DOUBT: Despite all of the past Oregon success and highly ranked recruiting classes, a 1-6 conference record has taken a toll. "There's certain fragments of guys that you can see aren't 100 percent confident," Helfrich said. "You can't fake that (confidence). You can't simulate that. The only way that happens is in training, and getting your confidence through true preparation, seeing yourself do it, seeing your teammates doing it and then just repeating it."