Coming into Saturday, Oregon felt good about its chances.
The team had a great week of practice and were focused on getting over their recent Pac-12 road woes, having only won twice in their last 10 conference away games.
Making matters better was the fact that Utah was going to be without its starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and starting running back Zach Moss. Both players, who combined for over 75-percent of the Utes’ rushing attack, were out with injuries.
In the end, none of it matter.
The Ducks (6-4, 3-4 Pac-12), who rallied to take a brief lead late in the fourth quarter only to give it up the next possession, eventually fell 32-25 to Utah (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) and its team of backups.
Quarterback Justin Herbert and the offense got off to a slow start again, accounting for only four yards in the first quarter, before rebounding with 401 yards the rest of the game.
Herbert finished 20-of-33 for 288 yards and three scores, once again finding wide receiver Dillon Mitchell on a consistent basis. Mitchell ended with eight catches for 169 yards and two scores, proving why he’s the best receiver in the Pac-12.
“Made some big plays… he made some big plays,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of Mitchell. “We got to keep making more.”
Oregon’s running offense was once again non-existent, consistently putting Herbert and the passing game in tough situations, like third-and-longs. The Ducks routinely failed to get anything going on first down, putting the offense behind the chains and forcing it to play catch up, not a recipe for success against Utah’s defense.
“First down will always be the difference-maker when we run tempo,” Cristobal said. “It's obviously something we have to address and get better at… that really sums it up, we got to get better at it.”
Utah took advantage of Oregon’s slow start, jumping out to a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter. The Utes routinely moved the ball downfield, taking advantage of backup running back Armand Shyne’s power and wide receiver Britain Covey’s elusiveness.
The Ducks’ defense did hold strong, limiting Utah to two field goals when each time the Utes had the ball at first-and-goal within the five-yard line but settled for the three points.
Oregon got on the board when Herbert and Mitchell found their rhythm, scoring on a 34-yard pass.
The Utes responded with a field goal before the Ducks got the ball back and drove down the field before stalling. Oregon turned to Adam Stack, but he missed a 34-yard field goal, giving Utah the ball back 1:05 left in the half.
Utah drove 42 yards before Matt Gay drilled a 55-yard (would’ve been good from 65) field goal as time expired in the half.
Oregon took the opening drive all the way down for a score as Herbert and Mitchell continued their connection after the break. The drive ended with Herbert finding Mitchell for an eight-yard score.
After a three-and-out by the Utes, the Ducks went on a 7-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a Stack 34-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 19-17.
Utah added to the lead when Gay hit a 41-yard field goal, giving the Utes a 22-17 cushion after three quarters.
With both offenses stalling, special or teams were going to have to make a play. Lucky for the Ducks, Kano Dillon answered the call when he blocked a Utah punt, which Adrian Jackson covered at Utah’s three-yard line.
One play later and Herbert found freshman running back Travis Dye in the flat for the touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion was good when Herbert found Jaylon Redd, giving the Ducks a 25-22 lead.
It was short-lived as Utah responded with a 5-play, 60-yard touchdown drive to regain a lead it would never relinquish.
For the game, Shyne finished with 174 yards on 26 carries, gashing Oregon’s run defense all game long. Backup quarterback Jason Shelley finished 18-of-31 for 262 yards and two rushing touchdowns, but most importantly, no turnovers.
“He is a confident kid and a tremendous athlete,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said of Shelley. “Coach Troy Taylor did a nice job preparing him and he did a nice job as well in terms of film preparation, as all our quarterbacks do. It was just one game, but he rose to the occasion tonight."
Oregon returns home for a week of practice before welcoming Arizona State to Autzen Stadium on Saturday, November 17 for senior night. Game time is TBD.