SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Sports) – Both Utah and Oregon have so much on the line Saturday night when the two best teams in the Pac-12 face off at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
With a victory, the Utes (7-3, 6-1 Pac-12) would clinch the Pac-12 South title and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game for the third time.
If the Ducks (9-1, 6-1) pull off the win on the road, they would stay in contention for the College Football Playoffs.
But Utah also has a chance to make history. #3 Oregon would be the highest ranked team Utah has ever beaten at home, eclipsing the team’s 27-21 victory over #5 Stanford in 2013. So while the team is saying it is not treating this game differently, it is almost impossible not to.
“Everybody knows that this week isn’t the same as every other week,” said Utah wide receiver Britain Covey. “We’re going to prepare the same because that’s what has worked. But this week isn’t the same because of the gravity of the situation.”
This will be the seventh time Utah has hosted a top-5 team, but has only the one victory.
The Utes have won six of its last seven, but last week’s 38-29 victory against lowly Arizona was ugly, and the team says it has learned from its mistakes.
“I think it was important to go through that,” said running back T.J. Pledger, who filled in for Tavion Thomas and rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns. “All season long you’re going to go through trials and everything. Coming out of it, you end up feeling stronger, and we learn from the mistakes.”
“As far as the offense goes, every time we don’t score, it’s just shooting ourselves in the foot,” said tight end Brant Kuithe. “Defense is doing a great job keeping them down in points. I think the offense, we can do a little bit better job.”
Oregon has so many weapons, namely quarterback Anthony Brown Jr. and running back Travis Dye, who already has gained over 1200 total yards this season.
“He’s a dual threat,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said about Dye. “He can run the football from the backfield. He can catch it out of the backfield. He’s lightning quick, and he’s a weapon for them.”
Dye knows all about the Utes defense and its best player, linebacker Devin Lloyd.
“He’s a great player,” Dye said. “He does everything right. He’s super physical, he’s super athletic, and it’s going to be a fun matchup.”
“He’s extremely talented, a huge kid,” added Brown. “He’s fast, and he’s just a ball player.”
As for the atmosphere at Rice-Eccles Stadium, it is going to be off the charts for what could easily be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game December 3rd in Las Vegas.
“It’s a really tough environment,” Dye said. “They have really great fans, very passionate, and it’s cold. But that’s fine, it’s cold here too.”
“I know it’s going to be rocking,” said Pledger. “Our fans are amazing, and I definitely believe it’s a weapon to have the fan base that we do.”
“Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been away,” Kuithe said. “So it’s great to be back at home, under the lights at 5:30 on ABC. So, what else could you ask for?”
It doesn’t get much bigger than this in the Pac-12. Utah and Oregon will kick off at 5:30 p.m. on ABC4 Saturday night.