SALT LAKE CITY — Rice-Eccles Stadium is no pond. Even so, the Oregon Ducks are looking to make themselves at home Saturday against the 24th-ranked Utah Utes.
“Probably most importantly for us is to play on the road the same way we play at Autzen,” said Oregon coach Mario Cristobal. “That’s got to be the biggest point of emphasis for us.”
Cristobal added that the Ducks have never been unfocused away from their stadium in Eugene, it’s just that they need to be refocused or recommitted to playing a certain way.
“We’ve got to make sure we’re dialed into that and carry it through the moment we leave home and get on the airplane and fly over there,” Cristobal said. “And carry it over to the moment the ball is teed off until the clock says zero.”
Oregon is 5-1 at home this season. The lone loss was a 38-31 overtime setback to Stanford. Wins have come against Bowling Green (58-24), Portland State (62-14), San Jose State (35-22), Washington (30-27, OT) and UCLA (42-21).
The road, though, hasn’t been so good for the Ducks. It started off well with a 42-24 win at California on Sept. 29. Then came late October losses at Washington State (34-20) and Arizona (44-15).
Cristobal downplayed crowd noise for things getting out of sync. He explained that they just didn’t play well.
“It all comes down to the mindset and the ability to carry out a process all the way through the end of the game and back to the locker room,” Cristobal said. “That’s what it comes down to. It starts with practice. Our Sunday practice was extremely sharp. Our film review, I felt, was excellent. I think the leaders are stepping up, finding ways to get guys in here and watch extra film.”
The Ducks (6-3, 3-3), he continued, are showing a hunger to take the next step. They certainly have the attention of the Utes.
“Our focus is on Oregon. They are every bit as good of a football team as Arizona State, so we have our hands full,” said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. “They are very talented, tremendous quarterback and a receiver that is putting up big numbers. They run the ball efficiently and they are scoring a bunch of points, so they are a big challenge. We have to be ready to go.”
Quarterback Justin Herbert headlines the Oregon attack. The 6-foot-6, 233-pound junior, who is projected by some pundits to be the No. 1 overall pick in the next NFL draft, has thrown for 2,333 yards this season with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. He ranks among the Pac-12 leaders in numerous categories.
Herbert’s top target is junior Dillon Mitchell, who is No. 1 in the conference with 833 receiving yards.
The Ducks, who are averaging 37.2 points and 443 yards of offense per game, also have some of the Pac-12’s premier defensive players. Freshman safety Jevon Holland, sophomore cornerback Deommodore Lenoir and senior safety Ugochukwu Amadi have made a combined 10 interceptions. Amadi is also a leading punt returner. Senior running back Tony Brooks-James is a player to watch on kickoff returns.
After opening the season with a 5-1 record, Oregon has dropped two of its last three games — getting outscored 78-35 (by Washington State and Arizona) in the process. The Ducks bounced back to double up UCLA last week.
"The Stanford game was tough on them. That was a game where they had all but won and then didn't finish it. They are 6-3 and they have done a good job this year,” Whittingham said. “But I don't know if I can put an exact finger on why they have played better in some weeks than others. I don't know anyone in the country that doesn't play better in some weeks than others. Well, Alabama I guess, but everyone else, all of the normal teams, usually struggle to play their best every week."5 comments on this story
EXTRA POINTS: Oregon’s last visit to Rice-Eccles Stadium ended in dramatic fashion — a 17-yard touchdown pass from Herbert to future Ute Darren Carrington II with two seconds remaining — lifted the Ducks to a 30-28 win in November of 2016 ... Oregon leads the all-time series with Utah by a 22-9 margin ... The Ducks are giving up 27.6 points per game, ranking eighth in the Pac-12 ... Freshman Penei Sewell, an offensive lineman from Desert Hills High in St. George, suffered a high ankle sprain in Oregon’s win over Washington on Oct. 13 and is expected to be sidelined for six weeks.
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Oregon (6-3, 3-3) at Utah (6-3, 4-3)
- Rice-Eccles Stadium
- Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
- TV: Pac-12
- Radio: ESPN 700AM