Oregon St facing big challenge vs Utah a week after big win
CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Oregon State finds itself walking a line between embracing the excitement of a big win and not letting that emotion distract from the current task at hand: No. 15 Utah.
The Beavers (2-3, 1-1) are coming off a 48-31 victory over UCLA at the Rose Bowl last weekend, just their second win this year and first victory over a Pac-12 opponent since last season.
But the Utes (4-1, 1-1) are a completely different kind of opponent — picked in the preseason to top the Pac-12 South.
As a result, Beavers coach Jonathan Smith preached the importance of staying focused.
“They’re a really good team. On both sides of the ball and special teams, they’ve got great athletes from top to bottom,” Smith said. “Nothing is going to be easy or given, we’re going to have to earn it.”
The Utes’ defense is especially daunting: They’re ranked 14th for overall defense in the nation. They are adept when it comes to stopping the run, holding all five of their opponents to under 100 yards rushing (58.3 yards a game, fourth nationally).
But they’re ranked 73rd overall and fifth in the league for passing yards allowed (228.6).
That could help the Beavers, whose strength against the Bruins was quarterback Jake Luton. In his sixth season of eligibility after a career marred by injuries, Luton threw for 285 yards and five touchdowns while running for another score in Pasadena.
Luton, named Pac-12 Player of the Week, has a career-best 14 touchdowns this season and has yet to throw an interception.
“We’re obviously not talking about it a ton, but he’s making great decisions and is getting a lot of help,” Smith said, referring to Luton’s streak without a pick. “Our protection has been good, he hasn’t been getting flushed or anything like that.”
Oregon State, in its second year under Smith, has as many wins as it had all last season heading into Saturday’s game at Reser Stadium.
Utah is coming off a bye. The Utes beat Washington State 38-13 at home on Sept. 28, rebounding from an upset loss to USC the week before.
“It’s a very competitive league week in and week out, so we just take the same approach every week, that we’ve got to be at our best if we want to win the game. It’s the old cliche of anyone can beat anyone and that’s proven each week,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
The Utes have a three-game winning streak over Oregon State, including a 19-14 victory in Corvallis in 2016.
Other things of note when the Beavers host the Utes on Saturday:
DON’T SLEEP ON HODGINS: Oregon State receiver Isaiah Hodgins has been one of Luton’s favorite targets. He has 632 receiving yards this season to rank fifth nationally and is ranked second in the nation with an average of 126.4 receiving yards per game. He also leads the league in scoring with 10.6 points per game.
MOSS RETURNS?: Utah senior running back Zack Moss has 63 carries for 393 yards and four touchdowns through four games, and he’s just 176 yards away from passing Eddie Johnson (1984-88) as the Utes’ leading career rusher. But he’s still officially a question mark against the Beavers because of an injury that kept him out of the Washington State game.
NO TURNOVERS: Luton and Utah quarterback Tyler Huntley have yet to throw an interception this season, and they are among just six quarterbacks nationwide who have attempted at least 100 passes this season without a pick. Additionally, Oregon State is one of just three teams nationwide that hasn’t lost a fumble this season.
DROP KICK: Oregon State’s Daniel Rodriguez was named the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week after punting three times with a 47.7-yard average in the victory over UCLA. But what stood out was a drop kick on a kickoff in the first quarter that went 23 yards and was recovered as an onside kick by Oregon State. The Beavers went on to score to take a 21-0 lead.
Whittingham said the Utes will be on the lookout for such plays.
“You do things you see on the tape that are out of the norm, you definitely expose them to that in practice and have them work on it as well as come up with a strategy that’s applicable to combat it,” the coach said.