Utah Football: Can Utes punch ticket to playoff vs. Oregon?

(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

Utah football is looking to shock the country and win the Pac-12 title game, punching a ticket to the College Football Playoff.

While Paul Finebaum has called this a waste of time, Pac-12 football has a potential classic on its hands. Utah and Oregon are set for the Pac-12 Championship. Utah is looking to punch its ticket to the playoff, while Oregon is looking to play spoiler and reach the Rose Bowl. The much-anticipated game arrives and can the battle reach the season-long expectations?

Utah football comes into this game one win away from their goal, the College Football Playoff. The Utes have had a mostly successful season, finishing 11-1, on the year, and only fell to No. 22 USC Trojans.

Utah is one of the most balanced teams in the country. They pride themselves on a stout defense, that ranks No. 3 in the country and No. 1 in rushing defense. Bradley Anae and the dominant defensive line holds opponents to only 56 yards per game on the ground.

They pair that with the No. 25 offense in the country, who has a superstar in the backfield in Zack Moss, and the most efficient quarterback in the country, Tyler Huntley. Huntley is second in the nation in completion percentage, completing 75 percent of his passes. He’s a quarterback who just doesn’t make mistakes, and is probably an over-qualified game manager at the quarterback position.

Moss, meanwhile, is one of the most under-appreciated stars in all of college football. He averages an absurd 6.25 yards per carry in 1,246 yards. It’s telling that the one game Utah lost all season, Moss had to leave for injury. He’s the best running back in the conference.

Oregon football finished the season 10-2, and for the Ducks it’s considered a disappointment. Despite two losses, Oregon has fair claim to be the most talented team in the country. Their defense is littered with talent, and Travis Dye and CJ Verdell make one of the best running back tandems in the country.

The big name for the Ducks is Justin Herbert. The embattled quarterback has been mostly inconsistent on the season, and has received a lot of heat for the two losses on the season. If he can play to his full potential, the Ducks can beat anyone, including Utah.

The Pac-12 Championship is an interesting game with a great clash of styles between the Utes and the Ducks.

Here’s how to watch:

Date: Friday, Dec. 6
Time: 8 p.m. EST
Location: Santa Clara, Calif.
Venue: Levi’s Stadium
Live Stream: WatchESPN

Keys to Victory

Utah’s keys to the win are simple: win the line of scrimmage. Defensively, I expect Utah to stack the line of scrimmage, to limit the run game and send pressure at Herbert. Arizona State wrote the game plan towards slowing down Oregon, as Herbert took three quarters to dissect their blitz schemes. He made a lot of mistakes, including two interceptions and barely over 50 percent completion percentage, as the Ducks tried to come back late in the game.

Winning the line of scrimmage battle on the other side of the ball means staying ahead of the line of scrimmage. Oregon’s defense line fast, and the defense is fast in the secondary as well. If Utah is stuck in second and third and longs, then Oregon’s superior athleticism can take over. Zack Moss getting positive gains on early downs will be the key.

The Ducks keys to winning this game is to make some big plays. Utah is going to try to shut down the run game, and Oregon has to be able to stretch the field and open the wholes at the line of scrimmage. Part of that is getting separation against the secondary, but the offensive line needs to create time for Herbert. They’ve allowed 22 sacks on the year, which is No. 53 in the country. If he has time to create some big plays, Oregon will win.


Utah and Oregon are a great contrast in styles. Utah is well-balanced while Oregon has the talent advantage. In this game, I think Utah’s coach Kyle Whittingham comes out with a good game plan, and the Utes jump ahead early. Oregon will begin to break down the defense with a few big plays, but a late interception from Julian Blackmon seals the victory, and the playoff berth for the Utes.

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There’s been a lot of talk if this Utah team is deserving of being a college football team (we’re looking at you, Finebaum). But the Utes are plenty talented, and rank in the top ten in offensive and defensive FEI for a reason. They’re a great football team that will win the Pac-12 title.

Prediction: Utah 27, Oregon 23