When and where: December 6, 2019, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA, 8:00 PM ET
The No. 6-ranked Utah Utes hope to keep their playoff hopes alive by traveling to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and beating the No. 14-ranked Oregon Ducks for the Pac-12 Championship. Of course, quarterback Justin Herbert and the explosive Ducks offense will have something to say about that on Saturday.
A promising season that started with playoff aspirations nosedived right out the gates for the Ducks after losing to Auburn. Aside from another upset loss to Arizona State, they have still played well enough to earn a conference championship appearance with a 10-2 record. Meanwhile, the Utes’ lone loss this season came to USC. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility for them to sneak into the playoffs depending on what happens in the championship games.
Efficiency is everything for the UtesUtah’s cupcake schedule, along with a stinging loss to USC, might be the only thing keeping them out of the College Football Playoffs conversation. They have been most dominant throughout their schedule against the opponents they’ve faced, setting the stage for a rematch from a year ago against Oregon. Utah quarterback Jason Shelley was the man behind center for that 32-25 victory. Tyler Huntley was out with a broken collarbone, and the team was forced to rely on its backup.
Shelley stepped into the fire and somehow managed to get the job done after going 18-of-31 for 262 passing yards.
Utah fans won’t have to worry about holding their collective breaths on Friday with the team having Huntley back in the lineup. He has been a reliable arm capable of limiting many of the bone-headed mistakes you typically see from quarterbacks at this level. His 87.5 QBR ranks fifth among quarterbacks in the nation in a year where he’s thrown for 2,773 yards, 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
Efficiency will be the deciding factor in a Pac-12 Championship game featuring the conference’s top-two defenses. Along with Huntley, Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert has done a tremendous job of limiting mistakes. So turnovers are going to be difficult to come by for both teams.
The most intriguing battle will be the Ducks’ ferocious defensive front against the ironclad offensive line for the Utes. Oregon’s defense leads the conference with 35 sacks, while Utah’s offense has allowed the least number of sacks (15). If the Ducks’ defenders can’t find their way into the backfield, Huntley should have some openings to take shots downfield against a secondary that has given up 17 touchdowns through the air this season.
On the other side of the ball, Herbert will be throwing into the teeth of a Utah pass defense that ranks 14th in the country. They also have options to turn up the heat in the pocket for Herbert with defensive end Bradlee Anae, who stacks quarterbacks like pancakes on a Saturday morning breakfast. His ongoing sack-feast sits at 12.5 this season.
Will the Ducks get their revenge?Herbert entered the year as an early Heisman hopeful. While the season hasn’t necessarily gone the way the Ducks would have hoped, the senior has achieved a career-high in completions and touchdowns, along with ensuring his team a spot in Friday’s Pac-12 Championship.
The Ducks’ only two losses this season came at the hands of Auburn and Arizona State. Those are two games they’d obviously love to have back considering they were both decided by less than a touchdown. They wrapped up the year with a 24-10 victory over Oregon State ahead of the trip to Santa Clara to face the defensive juggernaut in Utah.
Herbert has thrown for 3,140 yards, 31 touchdowns and five interceptions in 2019. However, those prolific stats will surely be put to the test when facing Utah’s stingy pass defense. It’s a defense that leads the conference with 13 interceptions and the lowest completion percentage by opposing quarterbacks (56.3). Herbert let a fumble get away from him in last year’s match-up, but he was good enough to avoid throwing any interceptions.
Utah won that game because they didn’t turn the ball over. Oregon will need the same mistake-free football game to come away with the victory in the rematch.
Another reason why Utah won with a backup quarterback behind center was due to their ability to run the ball so effectively. They piled up 232 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Oregon’s defense. The Ducks have been mighty stout up front this season, but they’ll have their work cut out for them in figuring out a way to slow down Utes running back Zack Moss—1,246 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns.
Oregon’s defense could be without defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux (hand). Offensive lineman Jake Hansen is also listed as questionable for the game with an undisclosed injury.
The supporting trends for this game, found on Covers.com, are:
- Ducks are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 neutral site games.
- Ducks are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games as an underdog.
- Ducks are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 games as an underdog of 0.5-3.0.
- Ducks are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games as an underdog of 10.5 or greater.
- Utes are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games after allowing less than 275 total yards in their previous game.
- Utes are 6-0 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
- Utes are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games after allowing less than 170 yards passing in their previous game.
- Utes are 8-0 ATS in their last 8 games overall.