STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL/GAME BREAKDOWN
Scouting the run defense: There’s no way to get around it, Zack Moss is one heck of a running back and he’s going to pose problems for the Ducks on Saturday.
“The bottom line is that Zack is so tough and physical, quick and fast, he is just the entire package,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Entering this weekend, Moss is the Pac-12’s third-leading rusher at 121.3 yards per game. A gifted running back who can beat opponents in a multitude of ways, Moss’ blend of power and speed has proven to be able to carry the Utes to victory when needed.
“He's an NFL guy — he has developed tremendously in their program,” Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal said of Moss. “He is big, physical… I know he's a downhill guy, but he'll put a foot in the ground, make you miss and bounce that thing outside and outrun the defense.”
Moss also happens to run behind one of the more powerful and nasty offensive lines in the conference, a unit that prides itself on winning in the trenches.
“The offensive line, they do a tremendous job getting push and knocking people back,” Cristobal said. “They were mixing it up well; they were using tempo, they were unbalanced formations and we don't expect that to change.”
Preventing Moss from running at will is an Oregon unit that gives up 143.2 rushing yards per game, fifth-best in the Pac-12. The Ducks have shown the ability to completely stopping opposing offenses from running the ball, but only when each player does his job. When knowing their role is combined with executing it, Oregon is a very difficult team to run on.
But because of the way they play, the Ducks have found themselves in trouble if one player struggles, leading to a domino effect that’s been exposed as of late.
A wrinkle Utah can try to expose is the ability of quarterback Jason Shelley running the football. A dual-threat quarterback who looks far more confident running the ball than throwing it, Shelley could be somewhat of an X-factor in his first career start if he runs with success early on.
“You have to play to his strengths and tailor the offense to what he does best — we are still going to have a quarterback run game element to our offense, that is not going to change because that is who we are,” Whittingham said of Shelley and the offense. “If you are going to run the spread offense, the QB run game has to be in the equation."
It’s simple for the Ducks, stopping Moss and the Utah run game will lead to a victory. Shelley is vastly unproven overall but forcing him to win the game with his arm should be the game plan for Oregon. Look for the Ducks to overload the box and play a lot of man coverage with a single-high safety, limiting Utah’s effectiveness in the run game.