By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Utah fans saw something they hadn’t seen in a long, long time. Those fans hadn’t watched their football team lose at Rice-Eccles Stadium since 2018.
I guess Dan Lanning didn’t get the message. He sent a message of his own to the college football world: The Ducks control their own destiny to the College Football Playoff, and they’ve got the team to make it there and make some noise. Lanning turned in his best coaching performance to date in what he aptly described as the “most complete game” of his tenure with the Ducks.
The Ducks were ready to play from the jump. A rowdy crowd of Utes fans were silenced with a smart, surgical, and tone-setting opening touchdown drive. They went 75 yards in just 6 plays against one of the best defenses in the country, needing less than 3 minutes to find paydirt. Then the defense responded with a 4th down stop after a 10-play Utah drive that yielded 50 hard-earned yards.
After just the second turnover of the Ducks season, a Bucky Irving fumble that was a great defensive play more than anything, the defense held the Utes to a field goal. Then the offense marched right down the field again in a fashion that Utah fans just aren’t accustomed to seeing. Utah had allowed 75 total rushing yards in their last 2 home games. They were allowing under 17 points per game on the season.
Oregon ran for over 140 yards in the game, and had 21 points at halftime. At over 5 yards per carry, those rushing stats might have been even greater had the Ducks’ defense not played so well. A pair of interceptions set up the Ducks’ offense with short fields and both were converted into touchdowns. A final note on Oregon’s offensive performance. The big fellas up front seem to play better and better each week. Bo Nix wasn’t sacked on Saturday, and has been dropped just 4 times all season through 8 games. That is, somehow, more than at this point a season ago. But Bo’s quick decision-making combined with a unit that is finding its groove is yielding great results. Utah is among the most physical front seven units in the country, and the Ducks were more than up to the challenge.
Now let’s talk about the defense. Oregon defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi has quieted his critics this season. Co-DC Chris Hampton has clearly been a great addition to the staff coming over from Tulane in the offseason. And this Oregon defense has got playmakers at all three levels. The defensive line seems to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to pass rushers, who range from true freshmen to COVID super seniors (Popo Aumavae). Jeffrey Bassa had one of the best games of his career, and he wasn’t the only linebacker who made an impact. Newcomer Tysheem Johnson had an outstanding game at safety (as did Evan Williams) with a pair of interceptions.
The defensive game plan was smart and well-executed. They took away the Utes’ rushing attack and forced Bryson Barnes to throw the ball under pressure. They were aggressive bringing the blitz and confident in their defensive backs to match up with Utah’s wideouts. The results? No touchdowns allowed, 2 interceptions, and the Utes’ QB finished the day with just 136 yards passing.
This was a complete game. The offense was sharp from the opening kickoff. The defense could not have played any better.
Dan Lanning has that locker room believing in themselves. And there are plenty of people outside of it that believe in them, too.
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.