A team that loses its season opener and national ranking is not a team to be trifled with.
Oregon State is coming to Salt Lake City looking to get its season back on track after a surprising first week loss to Eastern Washington.
Utah, however, is trying to accomplish something it sorely lacked last year, a Pac-12 win. The Utes also have an opportunity to start conference play with a win for the first time since joining the Pac-12. It all comes down to execution for the Utes.
The Utes are 1-1 against Oregon State since joining the Pac-12. They lost last year’s game to then-No. 8 Oregon State, 21-7, giving the Beavers a 6-0 start to its season and leaving Utah floundering with its first 2-5 season start under coach Kyle Whittingham.
Oregon State regained some momentum last week, overcoming a halftime tie and beating Hawaii 33-17. The game wasn’t perfect by any means, but players are emerging on both sides of the ball for Oregon State.
Needless to say, Oregon State has everything to prove, and it is not going to be an easy challenge for the Utes. Here are five players the Utes need to watch.
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Cooks is just one of many talented receivers making plays for the Beaver offense. A Pac-12 honorable mention last season, Cooks is positioning himself to receive more awards this season.
Cooks is already one of Oregon State’s top receivers and if he continues to produce, he is on track to be among the top three receivers in school history. At 5-foot-10, he may seem undersized, but he makes up for it in athletic ability, making him a viable target in the red zone. Just ask Hawaii.
Cooks made seven catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Utah’s cornerbacks have their work cut out trying to keep the ball out of Cooks' hands.
Mannion is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference, and he fits perfectly into coach Mike Riley’s offense. This will be Mannion’s first game against the Utes since 2011, when the Utes crushed the Beavers 27-8. Last year Mannion had undergone knee surgery and was unavailable to play.
In 2011, the Utes had Mannion's number; he threw three interceptions. He has a lot more experience now and is helping the Beavers chew up defenses. He has just under an 80 percent pass completion rate and has thrown for 794 yards, going 68-86 for the year. He also has thrown only one pick this season and has seven touchdown passes.
The only downside to his game is that Mannion is not a mobile quarterback. He has rushed for negative yardage thus far in 2013.
Reynolds is the most experienced player on the team. He has 25 consecutive starts and is considered NFL caliber talent. As a captain on the team, he is the leader on defense. Last season he had 75 tackles, three interceptions and 16 passes defended ranking him second in the Pac-12 for defensive backs.
Reynolds also runs track at Oregon State, which gives him the speed to go stride for stride with Utah’s best receivers.
Although Reynolds hasn’t done much in two games this season, the Utes should not overlook his presence on Saturday. This will be the first true test this season of Utah quarterback Travis Wilson’s accuracy and decision-making.
Woods is a multi-use running back and is looking to crack 1,000 yards rushing this season. He has handled the majority of carries in two games, rushing 33 times for 118 yards.
Woods is also a good receiver, making hm a prime option for a dump pass when the pocket is collapsing. His speed allows him to get into the open field and make plays. He currently is second on the team in receiving yards catching 15 passes for 139 yards.
Although Woods is not averaging 100 yards rushing per game yet this season, the Beavers have won 26 of their last 31 games when their running back hits the century mark. (One of those five losses was against Utah in 2008.)
Look for them to run the ball effectively.
In 2011, Oregon State had one of the worst offensive lines in the country, and last year it didn’t improve dramatically. In fact, it gave up 10 sacks in the Alamo Bowl against Texas.
This year the offensive line returns four starters, including team captain Grant Enger and Isaac Seumalo who is in the running to be the Pac-12’s best center. The four returning starters have combined for 90 career starts.
As Ted Miller wrote for ESPN Pac-12 Blog in April, “Next fall, count on (Oregon State’s offensive line) being one of the best.” Two games into the season the Beavers are already proving Miller right, giving up just two sacks to Hawaii. Utah will be hard pressed to find a weak point in the O-line.