One of the most popular conversation topics throughout the week was whether Oregon belongs in the College Football Playoff.
On Saturday evening, the Ducks left no doubt that they deserve a spot in the field if they should win out.
That’s not to say that Oregon’s win over Utah was perfect. After all, the offense couldn’t block the Ute front seven early in the contest, resulting in three sacks on the Ducks’ first two drives. Similarly, the defense struggled for most of the night, allowing the Utah passing game – ranked 110th nationally in yards per game heading into this contest – to throw for 320 yards and a whopping 9.7 yards per attempt.
Despite these less-than-stellar numbers, the Ducks won this contest by doing what they do best. Instead of panicking after the first two series, Mark Helfrich chose to stick with the game plan of running the ball right at the Utah defense. This persistence paid off, as Oregon wore down the Ute defense, scoring on eight of its final 10 possessions (not counting the kneel down at the end of the game) en route to another 500-yard performance.
On the other side of the ball, UO’s defense got the team back into the game by generating turnovers. The Gang Green defense came up with four huge takeaways on Saturday night, including a bizarre 100-yard fumble return that turned what should have been a 13-0 deficit into a 7-7 tie.
Here’s video of that play, courtesy of TSS contributor Kevin Causey at our visual posting hub, The Locker:
From @TheStudentSect Locker: Utah player drops ball before goal line and Oregon picks it up & runs 100 yds for TD – http://t.co/oaUehTd4zv
— CFBZ (@CFBZ) November 9, 2014
It’s also worth noting that the Duck defense wasn’t nearly as bad as the numbers suggest it was. Sure, it gave up some yards through the air, but it also bottled up the Ute ground game, limiting Utah to just 125 yards on 35 carries (3.5 yards per carry) with a long of just eight yards. While that’s a solid performance against any team, it’s even more impressive when considering that it came against a running attack that features Devontae Booker, who entered the contest ranked 11th nationally in rushing yards per game (123 yards per game).
Does this win mean that Oregon will get a chance to play for the national championship this season?
It’s still tough to say. While the Ducks clinched the Pac-12 North title with this victory over Utah, they still have to play a much-improved Colorado team, archrival Oregon State, and (most likely) Arizona State in the conference championship game. Given the considerable depth in the league, none of those three contests qualify as a “gimme.”
However, Saturday night’s win does show that this year’s edition is much different from other UO teams in the past, which usually came up one win short of playing in the championship. By defeating the Utes, the Ducks now have three wins against teams that play a very physical style of defense, including two games in the last two weeks. That ought to answer any questions anyone has about whether this year’s Oregon offense will work against the physical defenses of Florida State or the SEC.