Oregon State faces Utah tomorrow morning and the Beavs are double-digit underdogs. A season ago Oregon State ran all over Utah in Reser stadium handing them their only conference loss of the 2021 season. In the pre-season I wrote about Utah football and what to expect here. But as the calendar turns to October things have changed a little. Here’s five storylines around the Utah football team ahead of the matchup with the Beavs:
The big one is star tight end Brant Kuithe went down with a torn ACL in the win over Arizona State last weekend. Utah’s offense is similar to Oregon State in that they like to play multiple tight ends and establish the run game. Kuithe is a real leader for Utah and he was Cam Rising’s favorite target. Their other tight end, Dalton Kincaid, will be relied on even more in the passing game. With Luke Musgrave also out it’ll be interesting to see how these two teams find ways to generate offense on Saturday.
While Brant Kuithe is the biggest loss for Utah, but there are some other big injuries. Starting linebacker Mohamoud Diabate has not played the past two contests, but could be active against Oregon State. There’s a few more players that are banged up, but Kyle Whittingham and Utah play it close to the vest when it comes to injury news.
#2 Tavion Thomas in the doghouse?
In Utah’s Pac-12 opener against Arizona State star running back, Tavion Thomas, did not play the entire first half despite being 100% healthy. Kyle Whittingham alluded to it being somewhat of a punishment and that he expects more consistency and accountability from Thomas. Thomas and his family is dealing with a death in the family, but still managed to lead the team in rushing despite being forced to miss the first half.
Overall this seemed like a non-sensical decision from the coaching staff. Tavion Thomas is clearly their most talented running back and returned to Utah despite rushing for 21 touchdowns and 1100+ yards a season ago. Thomas didn’t score a touchdown versus Arizona State ending his 12 game rushing TD streak.
Tavion Thomas has rushed for a touchdown in his last 12 games — the longest active streak in America— Pick Six Previews (@PickSixPreviews) September 22, 2022
Next closest Power 5 streak is 6 (Shipley, Clemson)@thiagoothomas9 | @Utah_Football pic.twitter.com/yD7XzmwqfG
The Utes have a deep running back room, but Thomas is head-and-shoulders their best back this season. It’ll be interesting to see if they continue to take a RB by committee approach against Oregon State.
#3 Red Zone Struggles
Despite a relatively easy win against the Sun Devils, Utah struggled to score touchdowns in the red zone. They turned it over on downs at the 2-yard. It was the third time against ASU that they failed to punch it in once they got close to the end zone (2 field goals).
Whittingham said the team sputtered at times in the red zone and highlighted their red zone offense is a work in progress. Overall they still have a decent TD percentage in the red zone, but Oregon State has done a nice job at holding opponents to field goals once in the red zone. Hopefully they can take advantage and frustrate Utah on Saturday.
#4 Utah’s Run Defense
A year ago Oregon State ran for 260 yards against Utah leading to 42 points and an upset win in Reser. BJ Baylor amassed 152 yards on 19 carries and Utah seems to have remembered that. Utah started the season off poorly but since that game Utah has stymied opposing running games. Arizona State had 6 TOTAL rush yards against Utah. In fact in the three games since the Florida loss Utah has given up a total of 27 points. The Beavers offense will have their work cut out for them against Utah.
#5 Revenge Game?
When asked about last season’s loss in Corvallis defensive line coach Lewis Powell said “It was for sure a game that we can’t forget.” It’s been a theme this week around the football team. The coaches and players remember their lone conference loss in 2021 and want to get some payback. The Utes are excited to have this game at Rice-Eccles and put together a better performance. Utah has won 9 straight at home including 8 in a row by double digits. This could be the Beavers toughest test all season and a bounce back win against a motivated Utah team will signal to the rest of the conference (maybe even country) that the Beavers are contenders in the Pac-12.