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SALT LAKE CITY — No. 12 Utah hosts Oregon Saturday for its last home game of the season. It comes during crunch time for the Utes, who need to win their next two games to win the South division.
Last year, Utah (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) beat Oregon (3-7, 1-6) for the first time since entering the Pac-12 when the Utes traveled to Eugene, Oregon. The then-ranked No. 18 Utes beat then-ranked No. 13 Oregon 62-20 in an annihilating fashion. The Ducks have a 9-4 series edge in Salt Lake City. The last time Utah beat Oregon on its own turf was in 2003.
“It’s a hostile environment,” said Oregon offensive lineman Cam Hunt of Rice-Eccles Stadium. “It’s going to be a fun place to play.”
While Oregon is playing the rest of the season for pride and not its usual opportunity for a conference championship, Utah has the division title in its sights. It’s impressive, considering the Utes have lost five starters from season-ending injuries and 17 starters have missed games due to being hurt.
The story of the season for the 12th ranked team is the retirement and return of running back Joe Williams, who came out of a four-week retirement after three Utah running backs got bit by the injury bug. Since his return, Williams averages 216 yards per game and ranks third in the league in rushing yards (939) and sixth in rushing touchdowns (eight).
“He’s a stud,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said of Williams. “He’s been extremely productive. I wish he would have stayed retired.”
“We’ve got to stop the run. There’s no doubt about it,” said Oregon defensive coordinator Brady Hoke.
Williams poses a challenge for the Ducks as they rank 120th nationally against the run. Hoke also mentioned Utah’s physical offensive line, which ranks third in the Pac-12 in rushing offense.
“They’re physical up front and they have a very senior-oriented offensive line with three guys up there that have played a lot of football,” said Hoke, noting senior left guard Isaac Asiata, junior right guard Salesi Uhatafe and junior left tackle Garett Bolles, all who have started every game and played nearly all offensive snaps this season.
Flipping to the defensive side of the ball, Oregon is just as impressed with the Utes. Utah is coming off a blowout win against Arizona State and it’s largely thanks to the Utes’ defensive effort. Defensive end Hunter Dimick, who is tied for first in the nation in sacks (12) and sacks per game (1.20), racked up five of Utah’s 11 sacks against the Sun Devils.
“(He’s) relentless,” Helfrich said of Dimick. “I think that’s the best word to describe him. I love watching that guy play, not against us, but on film. He’s a physical guy and just never stops. He gets doubled a lot. He gets cut, whether it’s a back cutting him or a tight end cutting him, and he just never stops.”
“Their defensive line does a lot of schematic things,” said Hunt. “They have some really good defensive linemen.”
“They’re a very, very good defensive football team,” said Helfrich.
The Utes and Ducks are slated to kick off this Saturday at noon MST on Pac-12 Network with Ted Robinson, Yogi Roth and Cindy Brunson commentating.