Ducks top Utes, snap three-game slide
EUGENE — Oregon senior receiver Charles Nelson told coach Willie Taggart this week that the one thing he always wanted to do was throw a touchdown pass.
Nelson got his wish on Saturday. Oh, and it was his birthday, too.
Nelson got tripped up on a reverse but regained his footing to throw a 22-yard touchdown to Jacob Breeland and Oregon went on to beat Utah 41-20 to snap a three-game losing streak.
Nelson was congratulated on the sideline by injured Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert following the play which put the Ducks (5-4, 2-4 Pac-12) ahead 27-13 late in the third quarter.
"I just told myself, 'Be a ballplayer,'" Nelson said about the play.
Utah (4-4, 1-4) couldn't catch up for a fourth straight loss. Tyler Huntley, making his second start after returning from an injury, threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns. Former Oregon receiver Darren Carrington caught nine passes for 130 yards.
Oregon's Tony Brooks James ran for 105 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
The win got the Ducks closer to bowl eligibility for coach Willie Taggart's first season. Oregon's three-game slide coincided with the loss of Herbert, who fractured his collarbone against California on Sept. 30.
"The guys decided to stop feeling sorry for themselves and go out and play football like they're capable of," Taggart said.
The Ducks gone with true freshman QB Braxton Burmeister, who had been expected to redshirt. He made his fourth start of the season against the Utes and threw for 47 yards and a score.
Carrington was making his first appearance at Autzen Stadium since he was dismissed from the Ducks this summer following his arrest on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence. He was repeatedly booed by the Autzen Stadium crowd.
Burmeister hit Cam McCormick with a 5-yard touchdown pass on the Ducks' opening series. Matt Gay kicked a 23-yard field goal for the Utes early in the second quarter to narrow the game.
After Aidan Schneider kicked a 23-yard field goal for the Ducks, Ugo Amadi scooped up Carrington's fumble and ran it back 47 yards for a touchdown to put the Ducks up 17-3. Gay added a 34-yard field goal before the half.
The Utes went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Huntley's pass was tipped and fell into the hands of right tackle Darrin Paulo, who was flat on his back in the end zone. The TD withstood review and the Utes narrowed the gap to 17-13.
Schneider added a 38-yard field goal for the Ducks in the third quarter. Utah was hurt when tight end Jake Jackson was ejected for targeting and Gay missed a 43-yard attempt.
Brooks-James' 52-yard run led to Nelson's scoring pass to Breeland. Nelson took a reverse and barely escaped a tackle before finding Breeland in triple coverage.
The coaches drew up the play for Nelson after he told Taggart his wish, and the team practiced it once this week.
"Might have been my best touchdown here yet," Nelson smiled afterward.
Following Brooks-James' touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Utah closed the gap with Huntley's 29-yard touchdown pass to Siaosi Wilson.
Kani Benoit wrapped up scoring with a 21-yard touchdown run for the Ducks.
Royce Freeman rushed for 139 yards but didn't score for the fifth straight game.
Last weekend in a loss to UCLA, Freeman ran for 160 yards to set a new career record for rushing yards (5,103) at Oregon. With one more touchdown he will surpass leader LaMichael James on the school's career list.
Utah, which hasn't lost four straight since 2013, didn't win in October.
"Miserable. Yeah, miserable month," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "I guess it was oh-fer. Oh-fer October."
Utah: The Utes had just 3 yards rushing in the first half. ... With 81 receiving yards in the first half, Darren Carrington went over his career-high total for a single season (704 in 2014). Carrington went into Saturday's game leading the Pac-12 with 92.7 receiving yards per game. He's on pace to post the third-most receptions and receiving yards in a single season in school history.
Oregon: Former Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota was at the game. The Tennessee Titans, his current team, have a bye this weekend. ... Schneider's third-quarter field goal gave the Ducks their first second-half points since Sept. 30 against Cal.
TROUBLE WITH THE RUN: The Utes didn't have a good day with the run on either side of the ball. The team ran for just 91 yards collectively and allowed Oregon 347 yards rushing.
"If you can't run the ball and you can't defend the run, you're not going to have a very good day," Whittingham said.
Utah hosts UCLA next Friday night.
Oregon visits No. 12 Washington next Saturday. The Huskies beat UCLA 44-23 earlier Saturday.