Who: (5) Utah v. (13) Oregon
What: PAC-12 Championship Game
When: December 6, 2019, 6pm MST/8p EST
Where: Levi Stadium
PAC-12 Championship Game
The outcome of this PAC-12 Championship game is huge for both teams and the conference. The Utes are hoping that a win will propel them into the College Football Playoff conversation. There has already been a ton of discussion about how the committee will deal with one-loss power five champions. The Ducks have been most likely been eliminated from the playoffs with their loss to Arizona State, but are playing for a berth in the Rose Bowl. So far, the Utes are one touchdown favorites.
Utah leads the nation in rush defense and are in the top five nationally in scoring scoring def, first down defense and time of possession.Oregon ranks in the top five only for kickoff return yardage. They are top ten in the nation for turnover margin and punt returns.
University of Utah Utes
This is the area where the Utes have really impressed this year. First and foremost, the Utes have kept their starting quarterback and running back tandem (relatively) healthy for the first time since joining the PAC 12. It’s shown both statistically and honestly, just by watching, the Utes play. They have been able to put far more pressure on defenses this year and have been able to truly utilize both the passing and rushing game, rather than being “run-mostly” like they’ve been the past couple years. The entirety of last season accounted for 2,995 passing yards and in 2019, they have already reached 2,868. They have also managed 2,575 yards on the ground in 2019 which surpasses the 2018 total of 2,554 yards, in two fewer games.
In 2018 the Utes averaged just under 400 yards of total offense with a full 200 yards per game coming from the running game. The remaining came from the passing game, however, most of it came in the first seven games while Tyler Huntley was healthy. After week seven, the Utes would eclipse 200 yards passing in three games, and posted only one 300 yard game. The Utes have been very evenly split amongst the pass and run game, and have only flexed about 30 yards to any side regardless of location. The Utes scoring numbers have improved some year over year (28.1 pts/g in 2018 to pts/g 35.6 in 2019) but their ranking in the FBS has gone from 76th to 18th.
This year the Utes are only allowing 200 total yards of offense at home while allowing closer to 300 on the road. The road defense is probably slightly inflated because of the USC and Washington games that were offensive shootouts. The yardage numbers are improved from 2018’s roughly 300 yards per game.
The Utes have improved significantly in terms of scoring defense as well, in 2018 they allowed 19.4 pts/game which was still good for 17th-place. However, in 2019 they have only allowed 11.2 pts/game, good enough for 3rd, and these numbers are vastly inflated by the Washington (28) and USC (30) games. It also doesn’t reflect the six games that the Utes have held their opponents to ten points or less, and they’ve also recorded five games with seven points or less. To top it off, they have one complete shutout, and one game with only a field goal allowed.
Utah Players to watch:
- Tyler Huntley: Huntley battled injuries throughout a bunch of the 2018 season, so even after he returned his contributions were limited. However, this year he’s (mostly) healthy and has been a little more hesitant to take huge hits than he had been in the past. He’s even learning how to slide, something that will make Utes fans thrilled (it might be some leftovers from Travis Wilson’s front flip and injuries) but this has also allowed the Utes to maintain their starting quarterback. There was a massive drop off at this position last year when Jason Shelley took over for the injury-riddled Huntley.
- Zach Moss: The “legend” cliche is a bit overutilized for my liking, but this guy owns every record in the book. After a season-ending injury last season, he skipped the NFL to return, and the Utes have been ever so grateful. He owns the records for rushing attempts, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, 100-yard rushing games, total touchdowns scored, and he’s tied for first from 2018 with his 15 touchdowns in a single season. Moss being in the line up has forced teams to stack the box to prevent him from getting loose which has allowed for some jet sweep plays to Jaylen Dixon or Brant Kuithe (see below) for some big yards. It’s also opened up the screen game as well.
- Brant Kuithe: Kuithe has burst onto the scene in the last two games where he’s recorded FIVE touchdowns (of the nine on the season). The roster says he’s a tight end, but he’s basically been used in any (and every) skill position. He seems to be settling into a Britain Covey-esque role while Covey is on a medical redshirt. The real fun might be next year when they’ll have two exceptionally quick players going out wide. His usage skyrocketed between 2018, when he recorded 20 receptions for 227 yards and touchdown, compared to his 2019 numbers including 20 receptions for 550 yards, six touchdowns, five rushing attempts for 73 yards and 3 more touchdowns.
University of Oregon
The Ducks have been putting up video game numbers in basically every game but Auburn and surprisingly, Stanford. In both of these games, they were held to the low-300s of total offense. The rest of their games they have averaged 450+ yards. Their two best performances came against Nevada and Montana wins of 77-6 and 35-3 respectively where they averaged just under 600 yards. Even in their loss to Arizona State, they managed 458 yards of offense. The problem in that game was turnovers. Despite the crazy numbers, they only exceed the 2018 average by about 30 yards. The 2019 scoring is almost about 1.5 points per game higher (undoubtedly helped by the 71 point drubbing of Nevada).
The Oregon backfield retained its centerpieces in Verdell, Dye, and Habibi-Likio. In 2018 the backs accounted for 21 rushing touchdowns, but in 2019 (so far) they’ve accounted for only 15. Dye has accounted for 600 rush yards but has yet to find the endzone. Jaylon Redd is the second most frequent visitor to the endzone with 9 behind only Habibi-Likio, with 7 receiving touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns on only six attempts. The 2018 version of the Ducks split their scoring with 28 rushing touchdowns to 29 passing touchdowns, but in 2019 they have edged more towards the passing game with 34 passing touchdowns to 20 rushing touchdowns.
This year the Ducks are only allowing about 300 total yards of offense at home and 400 on the road. The Ducks have allowed 24+ points in five of their twelve games. The yardage numbers are slightly improved from 2018’s roughly 300 yards per game.
The Ducks defense is vastly improved from last season’s 25.4 pts/game, and their points allowed on the season have nearly halved to reflect it (15.8 pts.game). They have cut almost a touchdown per game off of their opponent’s scoreline to indicate just how far it’s come.
Oregon Players to watch:
- Cryus Habibi-Likio: This running back has between 30 and 40 pounds of added weight compared to most of the running backs in the nation. Cyrus’ touches have more than quadrupled in since last season, although he only added three more touchdowns on the season. The run game has been ultra-dependent on Habibi-Likio and I think his production will be a good indication for the team. He will, however, face the best rush defense team in the nation allowing only about 60 yards per game in the Utes.
- Jevon Holland: Holland will have a big role to play if the Ducks are to beat the Utes in this one. Holland (co-)leads the team with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He’s the team’s third-leading tackler (solo, assisted, and total tackles) as well. The Utes will look to stay balanced, and Holland will be hoping to catch Huntley’s eyes to help his team out.
- Justin Herbert: This feels like a cop-out pick because of the huge expectations levied on Herbert from the being of the season. Herbert’s already recorded the most touchdown passes of his career (31), despite having played fewer games this season. He’s been in the Heisman discussion for most of the season, though I think the team’s bad, upset loss against Arizona State might have knocked him out of contention. Regardless, Herbert has thrown for over 3,000 yards, 31 touchdowns, with only five interceptions. He’s already two touchdowns over his production last season, and I expect that gap to grow even more in the next 2 (or more) games.
Last Updated: December 5, 2019