15th ranked Utah (5-0, 2-0 MWC) will host Oregon State (2-2, 1-1 PAC 10) Thursday night. Kickoff is set for 7:00 pm Mountain Time and the game will be televised nationally on VERSUS.
Utah and Oregon State opened the season a year ago in Corvallis. The Beavers dominated that game on both sides of the line of scrimmage, holding the Utes to 70 yards rushing while running for 263 yards in a 24-7 win. Overall, the Beavers lead the series 9-4-1.
While Utah struggled to get going on the ground in that last game, their receivers had a difficult time against press coverage. Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham went as far as to say that Oregon State's corners "dominated" Utah's receivers, and position coach Aaron Roderick agreed. "We didn't win the one-on-one match-ups last year. They're a man coverage team and we didn't win those. They're a good press coverage team. We're a year older, a year better, and we're better prepared to handle that now." Roderick went on to explain what the offense needs to do to get a win this time around. "We've got to defeat man coverage as receivers and block in the run game. Overall as an offense we need to take care of the ball and execute against a quality opponent."
Oregon State heads into the game on a high note after knocking off then-#1 ranked USC 27-21 in Corvallis. True freshman Jacquizz Rodgers ran all over the vaunted Trojans defense, racking up over 200 yards of offense on 39 touches, including 186 yards on 37 carries and 2 touchdowns. His older brother James gave the Utes fits a year ago, rushing for 62 yards on 4 carries from his slot receiver position.
Utah is on a roll as well, winning five straight to open the season and 13 of their last 14 dating back to last year. The Utes handled FCS opponent Weber State 37-21 in their previous game, with the starters sitting out most of the final quarter. Perhaps the best indicator to how well this team is playing is their 3-0 mark on the road, after struggling on the road in coach Whittingham's first three seasons (8-9 compared to 13-5 at home).
Like most games, this upcoming battle will be determined by which team is able to run the ball and stop the run. On the season, Oregon State is running for 142 yards a game on offense and 196 yards a game in games they win while holding opponents to 148 yards rushing overall and 71 yards in wins. Utah is 5th nationally in run defense allowing just 60 yards a game on the ground while rushing for 174 yards a game on offense.
Players to Watch
James Rodgers - Rodgers tortured Utah's defense a year ago on fly-sweeps from the slot, carrying the ball 4 times for 62 yards with a long of 25 yards. Oregon State uses him as an extra blocker in the running game as well, using the same fly-sweep motion and using him to block a DE or LB freeing up space inside.
Freddie Brown - The slant route works well against man coverage provided the receiver can get a good inside release. This has been Brown's bread-and-butter route through the first five games and he could have a big game if that continues.
Andy Levitre - One of the top tackles in the nation and will be a real test for Paul Kruger. Levitre has great strength and quickness and is a key to Oregon State establishing the run and protecting the QB.
Brent Casteel - Casteel got off to a great start in the game a year ago, catching a 36 yard touchdown pass from Brian Johnson early in the second quarter. With Oregon State keying in on the run, Utah needs to take pressure off by making a big play in the passing game and Casteel is the best bet.
Lyle Moevao - Moevao did not have a great game against the Utes a year ago but has matured into a productive passer. He likes to get rid of the ball very quickly and is prone to making mistakes when the timing of the routes is thrown off. Utah will need to make him pull the ball down and go through his progressions.
Robert Conley - Bothered by knee problems, Conley has not been the dominating force he was supposed to be at right guard. Conley sat out the Weber State game and Utah will need him to return to form as he returns to the lineup against the Beavers.
Al Afalava - A high energy player who is all over the field, Afalava a one-man wrecking crew last time the two teams played, recording 9 tackles, 1 sacks, and 3 pass breakups.
Terrell Cole - Cole and Robert Johnson have been splitting time at safety the last few games and Cole has responded by making several big breakups in the passing game. Utah will need him to step up and play the run well against Oregon State.
Keenan Lewis - One of the top corners in the West, Lewis so completely took his man out of the offense last year that he did not record a single defensive stat. Oregon State's most experience player has 38 career starts.
Nai Fotu - Fotu will have to play disciplined football in the running game, not over-pursuing and giving Jacquizz Rodgers a cutback lane. He also needs to make James Rodgers pay whenever Rodgers tries to block him in the running game. Fotu has played well this season with 18 tackles, 4.5 TFL and a sack.
Slade Norris - Similar to former Ute Martail Burnett, Norris began his career as a safety, moved up to linebacker, and finally found his home at defensive end. 9 sacks in 2007 as a situational pass rusher and has 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack to this point in 2008 as a starter.
Aaron Tonga and Sealver Siliga - Utah will need contributions from the backup defensive tackles in this game. Tonga and Siliga have the size and strength to disrupt the zone blocking schemes of Oregon State. If the two can play well, Greg Newman and Derrick Shelby will be able to use their quickness to get in the backfield and stop Jacquizz Rodgers before he gets started.