No. 3 Oregon, No. 23 Utah meet in clash of Pac-12’s best

NCAA Football

Two of the Pac-12’s best go head-to-head Saturday night in Salt Lake City, with Utah a slight favorite to end Oregon’s hopes of making the College Football Playoff.

The Ducks retained their No. 3 spot in the CFP rankings Tuesday and are on a five-game winning streak. But the Utes, ranked No. 23 in the CFP poll, figure to be the best team Oregon has faced since the Ducks upset Ohio State in Columbus in September. Both teams lead their respective divisions — Oregon (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) tops the Pac-12 North by two games and Utah (7-3, 6-1) leads the Pac-12 South by one game over Arizona State.

Oregon can clinch the North title and a spot in the conference championship game with a win Saturday or an Oregon State loss. Utah can clinch the South with a win over the Ducks or an Arizona State loss.

That all means that the Ducks and Utes are on a collision course for a rematch against each other in the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas.

The two teams are near mirror images of each other. Utah averages 35.7 points per game on offense, Oregon 35.3. The Ducks allow 22.6 points per game on defense, the Utes 23.8.

Oregon’s 441 yards of offense per game is only three more than Utah’s average. In winning five of their last six games, the Utes have scored no fewer than 34 points in each of the six.

“They’re a really talented football team. They’ve recruited very well. They have a lot of staff continuity. They’ve done what they’ve done for a long time and worked together for a long time,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of the Utes. “They have a lot of guys who play with power. A lot of speed on that team, explosive players.”

For the Ducks, their offense starts with the run. The Ducks are tied for second in the nation with 31 rushing touchdowns, including 15 in the last four games. The leading rusher is Travis Dye, who needs 92 more rushing yards to reach 1,000 in a season for the first time in his career.

Oregon is fifth in the nation with a 51.56 percent third-down conversion rate, going 31-of-47 (65.9 percent) in the last four games, and the Ducks are averaging 297 rushing yards per game over the last three.

Utah has won 17 of its last 18 home games, and with a win, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham would become the all-time wins leader at the school with 142. Utah has scored 16 of its 27 rushing touchdowns in the last four games.

“We prepare the same exact way, meeting structure, practice structure, everything. That’s how you have to do it in the Pac-12 because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter who you play, you’re going to get beat if you’re not ready to go,” Whittingham told the Deseret News. “We approach it the same exact (way) every single week.”

In rivalry history, Oregon is 23-10 all-time against the Utes with wins in three of the last four meetings, including the 2019 Pac-12 championship game in which a Justin Herbert-led Ducks team rolled to a 37-15 win in Santa Clara, Calif.

–Field Level Media

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