As a player we’ve got to go home, look ourselves in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Do you want it? That just goes for all of us. —Tyler Huntley
EUGENE, Ore. — Utah’s free fall continued Saturday with a 41-20 loss to Oregon at Autzen Stadium. This time, though, the Utes landed on solid ground — sole possession of the Pac-12 South cellar.
The team’s fourth consecutive loss, coupled with Colorado’s 44-28 victory over California, dropped Utah to 4-4 overall and 1-4 in conference play. The Utes are now one-half game behind the fifth-place Buffaloes (5-4, 2-4).
Utah’s latest setback involved running the football. Oregon could and Utah couldn’t. Royce Freeman ran for 139 yards and Tony Brooks-James added 105 to set the pace as the Ducks racked up 347 yards rushing against Utah’s normally stout defense. The Utes, meanwhile, netted just 91 yards on the ground.
“Credit Oregon for playing a very good game,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “The rushing attack is what did us in.”
“We did some decent things,” Whittingham later added. “But again it comes back to running the football and defending the run.”
Quarterback Tyler Huntley, who completed 25 of 43 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns, didn’t have a lot to say after the physical contest. He was sacked four times and under a lot of pressure throughout the game.
“As a player we’ve got to go home, look ourselves in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Do you want it?’” Huntley said. “That just goes for all of us.”
Defensive end Kylie Fitts, who made eight tackles and had a sack, called the loss embarrassing.
“I’m not used to this,” he said.
Problems defending the run, Fitts noted, came because the defense lost its edges.
“They beat us sideline-to-sideline and we couldn’t make plays,” the senior said.
Former Oregon receiver Darren Carrington II, who transferred to Utah as a graduate student over the summer, made a game-high nine catches.
“It was fun playing against them,” he said before noting his focus is elsewhere. “We’ve got to fix our problems. We’ve got to fix them quick.”
Carrington cited a lack of execution, being together and caring as reasons for Saturday’s setback.
“We’ve got to come out and play every play,” he said.
Down 17-6 and with just 3 yards rushing over the first two quarters, Utah’s best bid for a comeback began in a most unusual way. The Utes opened the second half with a touchdown march that ended with a 1-yard pass from Huntley to left tackle Darrin Paulo. The offensive lineman caught a ball tipped by Oregon and secured it while laying on his back just across the goal line. Matt Gay added the extra point as the Utes climbed back into contention.
The Ducks, however, didn’t quack, er, crack under the pressure. They managed to put 10 straight points on the board over a span of less than six minutes. Kicker Aiden Schneider opened the barrage with a 38-yard field goal.
Oregon’s next score involved some trickery and athleticism. It came on a reverse that put the ball in the hands of receiver Charles Nelson. He nearly went down after being pursued by Utah safety Marquise Blair. Nelson managed to avoid falling down and then threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jacob Breeland. Scheinder’s successful PAT gave Oregon a 27-13 advantage with 3:27 to go in the third quarter.
The Ducks wound up outscoring the Utes 14-7 in the fourth. They bookended Utah’s 29-yard touchdown pass from Huntley to Siaosi Wilson with a pair of running scores by Brooks-James (23 yards) and Kani Benoit (21 yards).
While much has been made of Utah’s shortcomings on offense, as of late, things didn’t start off well for the defense.
Oregon and starting quarterback Braxton Burmeister scored a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. The Ducks marched downfield on 11 plays, capped by a 5-yard scoring strike from Burmeister to tight end Cam McCormick.
Utah’s opening possession, featuring offensive coordinator Troy Taylor working from the box instead of the field for the first time with the Utes, came up empty after a promising start. Three plays lost yardage, including a sack, coupled with a false start penalty that doomed a drive that reached the Oregon 19-yard line at one point.
A punt by Mitch Wishnowsky followed.
It didn’t take long after that, though, for Utah’s defense to have a breakthrough. A fumble by Burmeister was recovered by defensive lineman Leki Fotu on the Oregon 21. The takeaway eventually resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Gay early in the second quarter.
The Ducks responded with a 23-yarder of their own, adding a kick by Schneider to make it 10-3 with 8:40 left to play in the opening half.
Less than three minutes later, the deficit grew. After catching a pass from Huntley, Carrington fumbled the ball and it was scooped up by cornerback Ugo Amadi. The junior then ran 47 yards for a touchdown. Replay officials reviewed it and the decision on the field was confirmed. Schneider added the PAT as Oregon extended its lead to 17-3.
Before the second quarter was complete, Utah closed the margin with a 24-yard field goal from Gay.
The Utes, though, would never go on to hold a lead in the game. It’s something they’ve haven’t done now for eight straight quarters.
“We’ve just got to learn from our mistakes,” Huntley said.
Utah returns to action Friday (7:30 p.m., FS1) at Rice-Eccles Stadium against UCLA (4-4, 2-3).