Utah visits Oregon State in Pac-12 melee

Corvallis, OR (SportsNetwork.com) – The 20th-ranked Utah Utes hit the road for
Thursday night’s Pac-12 Conference clash with the Oregon State Beavers.

It has been nearly two weeks since Andy Phillips kicked a 29-yard field goal
to give the Utes a stunning 30-28 victory over then eighth-ranked UCLA. The
Utes jumped to No. 24 in the AP poll following the win, and climbed to No. 20
this week despite being idle last weekend. The Utes are 4-1 overall, although
they have split their two league tests.

Oregon State also is 4-1 entering this contest. However, it has not had many
marquee victories with triumphs over Portland State (29-14), Hawaii (38-30),
San Diego State (28-7) and Colorado (36-31). The Beavers enjoyed a bye last
weekend as well, giving them additional time to prepare for their third home

This matchup provided one of the more exciting games on the Pac-12 schedule
last season. Brandin Cooks hauled in one of his three touchdown passes in
overtime to lift the Beavers to a 51-48 road win. Oregon State has won back-
to-back games against the Utes, and leads the all-time series, 11-6-1.

There was a bit of a shake-up at quarterback for Utah in its win over UCLA.
Travis Wilson made his fifth start of the season, but Kendal Thompson came in
to lead the squad before the first quarter was over. Thompson threw for 95
yards and a score on 10-of-13 passing, and he also rushed for 83 yards.

“We had gone with three 3-and-outs with the first series, and we couldn’t move
the ball. We gave Kendal a shot to see what happens. It felt like it was the
thing to do, so it was no surprise. Kendal came in and did a nice job and was
able to move the team,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of his decision
to put in Thompson, although he did not give any indication who will start
going forward.

Wilson has thrown for only 788 yards on 57.4 percent passing, but he is one of
only three quarterbacks in the country, along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and
Washington’s Cyler Miles, to have at least 100 pass attempts and no
interceptions. Thompson has had less exposure, but presents a bigger threat on
the ground.

Regardless of who lines up under center, it is clear that Kenneth Scott (22
receptions, 228 yards, three TDs) and Dres Anderson (15 receptions, 290 yards,
four TDs) will get the majority of the touches in the passing game. They are
the only players on the roster averaging more than 30 receiving yards per

One reason Whittingham can afford to experiment at quarterback is due to
Utah’s strength in running the football. The Utes are third in the Pac-12 in
rushing offense (202.2 ypg). Anchoring the attack is Devontae Booker, who has
picked up 513 yard and four scores on 88 carries.

Utah’s defensive effort has been more impressive, and possibly more important,
than its showing on offense. The Utes rank third in the conference in scoring
defense (21.4 ppg) and total defense (376.8 ypg). Their biggest strength is
creating negative plays, having logged a league-leading 51 TFL.

Jared Norris (45 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks), Nate Orchard (34 tackles, 9.0
TFL, 8.5 sacks) and Hunter Dimick (5.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks) create a fearsome trio
up front for the Utes.

Oregon State’s track record doesn’t seem to lend much evidence that Utah’s
defense will face a major challenge this week. The Beavers are next-to-last in
the Pac-12 in scoring (28.2 ppg), and near the bottom in total offense as well
(393.2 ypg).

Without Cooks, the Beavers offense has obviously suffered, especially through
the air. Sean Mannion led the Pac-12 in passing yards last season, averaging
358.6 yards per game. He is nearly 100 yards off that pace this season, while
completing 64.8 percent of his passes and tallying only five touchdowns and
four interceptions.

Victor Bolden (24 receptions, 230 yards, TD) has stepped in as the top option,
but he is only averaging 9.6 yards per reception. Connor Hamlett (18
receptions, 219 yards, TD) and Richard Mullaney (18 receptions, 216 yards, TD)
provide alternate options.

The offense’s greatest strength has shifted to the running game, where Terron
Ward (343 yards, six TDs) and Storm Woods (342 yards, three TDs) form an
imposing combination of speed and power.

“It’s very good to run. One thing for us as coaches it’s kind of a
confirmation of time spent trying to be a better running team. There’s some
reward there,” Oregon State head coach Mike Riley said. “We can see how
important it is to the bounds of our team and to pass protect every play. I
think that’s a very important factor.”

Oregon State could use some of that improvement when the enemy has the ball,
as it ranks ninth in the Pac-12 in both scoring defense (31.4 ppg) and total
defense (436.6 ypg).