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Can Oregon State's offense spoil No. 15 Utah's run?

By Josh Furlong, | Posted - Oct. 9, 2019 at 11:44 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — As the schedule shifts to Oregon State, it becomes a penciled-in win for most programs in the Pac-12. The Beavers simply haven’t been competitive enough to be a consistent threat, particularly in conference play.

Over the last five seasons, including 2019, the Beavers have a 5-33 record in conference play, with wins coming against mostly down programs. Even their win over Oregon in the Civil War in 2016 came against a 4-8 Ducks team that struggled all season.

Oregon State just hasn’t been competitive over the last five years and there doesn’t appear to be light at the end of the tunnel. Even in 2019, a season where the Beavers have made significant strides in their offensive production behind receiver Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State is predicted to lose all of its remaining games, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index projections.

But even with a less-than-favorable outlook to the season, the Beavers can play spoiler to a No. 15 Utah team looking to build on its win over Washington State after the program’s first bye week of the season. A road tilt, even in Corvallis, is never an easy task — and Utah isn’t taking the Beavers lightly.

“Just because you're picked to win the South doesn't mean it's you and then everybody else,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham explained. “It's a very competitive league week in and week out. We just take the same approach every week that we've got to be our best if we want to win the game, because anybody in any given week — the old cliche that anybody can beat anybody in this league any given week — I think that's proven. Just about every week, somebody does that.”

Despite the struggles the Beavers have faced over the years to win games consistently, their offense this season is worth paying attention to. Oregon State averages 475.6 yards of total offense behind prolific receiver Hodgins, who has amassed 632 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in five games this season.

The Beavers have been able to call on Hodgins in the red zone to pull down touchdown grabs to pad a 90.5 scoring percentage in the red zone; of those scores, 80.9% of them have resulted in a touchdown to give the Beavers the 11th best touchdown percentage in the nation.

And while Hodgins has had a noticeable impact on Oregon State’s ability to score an average of 34.0 points per game, the offense is more than their star receiver. It’s an offense that averages 203.0 rushing yards and 272.6 passing yards per game. It’s a balanced offense that can attack opposing defenses with a myriad of options to move the ball downfield.

“They're doing some really good things, offensively,” Whittingham said. “Anytime you go on the road in the Pac-12 is a challenge — any week's a challenge for that matter, but particularly on the road. And like I said, they're coming off a nice win, and so they're playing with some confidence right now. And we're going to have to be at our best, no doubt about it.”

Utah has done well at limiting opposing offenses this season, as is a staple of the defensive unit led by defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. The Utes have limited teams to an average of 14.4 points (11th in the nation), 53.8 rushing yards (fourth), and 282.4 yards of total offense (14th) per game this season.

As long as Utah is at its “best,” Oregon State will struggle to replicate its season average on the offensive side of the ball.

The area that keeps Oregon State from really taking the next step as a program is its sub-par defense. The Beavers, on average, give up 30.4 points (97th), 195.6 rushing yards (60th), 245.0 passing yards (74th) and 440.6 yards of total offense (103rd) per game.

Conveniently for the Utes, its offensive season averages are right around Oregon State’s defensive averages, which could make for a very favorable day for an offense that is led by Tyler Huntley and his efficient play. Utah features the 13th most efficient offense in the country and will be difficult to stop, even if starting running back Zack Moss is held out of Saturday’s game.

“Well, I wouldn't say they're licking their chops,” Whittingham said of his offense looking at what Oregon State’s defense gives up. “We're always looking for the matchups, and football is a game of matchups. What it boils down to, it's one-on-one matchups; that's the biggest part of the game. It's not overall scheme as much as this player against that player, and you're always looking for a way, offensively, to maximize that.

“I would just say that we're going about our business in our normal fashion and trying to find the best way to move the football and take care of it and all that type of stuff.”

Without it needing to be said by the head coach, there are very favorable matchups for Utah to exploit. So, while Oregon State could play spoiler Saturday night in Corvallis, it’s likely that Oregon State will maintain its double-digit inferiority to a Top 15 team looking to get one step closer to bowl eligibility and padding the win column in the conference standings.

But crazier things have happened in the Pac-12 this season.

Utah will kickoff against Oregon State at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon, at 6 p.m. MDT. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks.

Josh Furlong

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