The Beavers continue the Pac 12 portion of their schedule with a home showdown with the Utah Utes on Saturday, October 15 at Reser Stadium. This will be the Beavers third conference game after opening on the road at Colorado and hosting the Cal Bears at Reser.
The games between the Utes and the Beavs have been competitive in the last four seasons. In 2012, the Beavers beat Utah 21-7 at Reser to start the season 6-0 for the first time in school history since 1907. In 2013, Beavers won a 51-48 overtime thriller in Salt Lake City in the 2013 Pac 12 opener. The Utes posted back-to-back wins in the series with a 29-23 double overtime victory in 2014, in Corvallis, and a 27-12 victory in Salt Lake City in 2015. In an Oregon State season where there weren’t too many bright spots, the Beavers (especially the defense) played one of their better games of the year against the Utes. Will the trend of competitive games between these two teams continue in 2016?
The Utah Utes are coming off a 10-3 season (6-3, in Pac 12) in 2015, where they exceeded the expectations of many experts. They were originally picked to finish 5th in the Pac 12 South Division. They were tied for first in the Pac 12 South with USC, but lost the head-to-head match-up with the Trojans 42-24. Many Beaver fans fondly remember last season when the Utes rolled into Autzen with a dominating 62-20 victory where they gained an impressive 530 yards in total offense in Eugene. Utah finished the season with a 35-28 victory over their in-state rivals BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl .
The 2016 version of the Utah Utes are a bit of a mystery, especially on offense. According to the Pac 12 media poll, the Utes are picked to finish 3rd in the Pac 12 South. Offensively, they lose Quarterback Travis Wilson to graduation, who started for the majority of his four years in Salt Lake City. In addition, the Utes lose All-Pac 12 running back DeVontae Booker. Booker ran for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Beavers in Utah’s 29-23 double overtime victory in 2014. Utah Coach Kyle Wittingham has yet to name a starting quarterback. Four Star Junior College Transfer Troy Williams, who started his career at the University of Washington has a good shot of becoming the starting quarterback. He will be competing with fellow Junior Brandon Cox and incoming Freshman Tyler Huntley for the starting quarterback position. Cox was praised during the spring when he took first-string reps when Williams was dinged up. Senior running back Joe Williams did a great job filling in when Booker was injured last year. He rushed for 308 yards on 60 carries in the UCLA and Colorado games. The Utes have receivers with size in Sophomore Tyrone Smith (6’4 205 lbs.), Senior Tim Patrick (6’5 210 lbs.), and Sophomore Raelon Singleton (6’3 210 lbs.). Harrison Handley and Siale Fakailoatonga provide solid depth at the tight end position. Utah’s offensive line is expected to be a strength this season. They return five players who started at least seven games last year and add Junior College All-American tackle Garett Bolles.
Under the Kyle Whittingham Era, a constant for Utah football has been excellent defense. Coach Anderson knows all to well the defensive success the Utes can have first hand since he was the Defensive Coordinator under Whittingham from 2005-08. The strength of the Ute defense is the defensive line, which is deep and skilled. Senior defensive ends Hunter Dimick and Kylie Fitts will join up with junior tackles Lowell Lotulelei and Filipo Mokofisi to form the starting line. The linebackers are unproven; Cody Barton and Sunia Tauteoli look like the starters for now. The secondary returns 4 out of 5 starters including safety Marcus Williams (5 interceptions in 2015) and cornerback Dominique Hatfield (4 interceptions in 2015). Last year, the Utes led the Pac 12 with 22 interceptions.
Beaver Nation can rely on the notion that very few coaches know Kyle Whittingham better than Gary Andersen. It was evident in Salt Lake City last season that the Beaver Defense seemed well-prepared and played one of their better games. OSU Defensive Coordinator Kevin Clune is also familiar with this Utah team because of his time at Utah State. I expect a dog fight, similar to the game played in Corvallis in 2014 where both defenses played well for most of the game The Utah front four will give the Beaver offense fits. In the end the Utes experience and talent at the line of scrimmage will overwhelm the Beavers. Utah wins it 23-16.