Oregon State Football Preview: Week Five vs Utah

In this file photo from 2019, Utah freshman running back Jordan Wilmore breaks past Oregon State defenders to reach the endzone. After losing to Utah last season, Oregon State will get the chance in 2020 to avenge the loss and improve to 3-2.

Brady Akins, Sports Editor

For the first time since 2015, the Oregon State Beavers have come out of the first four weeks of the season with a .500 record, but they will be looking to do one better this upcoming Saturday.

In the Beavers’ fifth game of the season, scheduled for Dec. 5 against the Utah Utes, Oregon State will hit some marks of success that the program has not seen in quite some time. They will be looking for their first winning record through five weeks since 2014, their first three-game winning streak against PAC-12 foes since 2013, and their first win against the Utes in just as long.

With Oregon State’s program slump in the past few seasons, earning a win against Utah would put the Beavers on a path for one of their best years in recent history. However, past performances against the Utes have proven unkind for Oregon State more often than not.

Despite an overall series lead against the Utes, with the Beavers owning 11 wins against Utah compared to their 10, more recent meetings have proven challenging for Oregon State. The Beavers have lost their last four games against Utah, and five of the last seven, with the most recent meeting resulting in a 52-7 loss in Corvallis just last season– the most lopsided loss the Beavers have suffered against the Utes.

However, in a season where Oregon State has already bucked the trends of recent history, beating the rival Oregon Ducks for the first time in three years and winning a game against a ranked opponent for the first time since 2014, the poor showings against Utah in past seasons may not be too daunting, especially with how the Utes have started their 2020 season.

After racing off to a 21-0 win lead against the Washington Huskies last week, the Utes hit a backslide coming out of the gate in the second half, eventually losing 24-21 and falling to 0-2 on the year. After finishing the 2019 regular season at 11-1, and representing the South division in the PAC-12 Conference Championship, this season’s Utah team has looked vastly different from the team that beat Oregon State by 45 points last year.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues among this season’s Utes team is that of experience. Flushed with experienced talent last season, largely comprised of upperclassmen, Utah lost nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, six of which were picked in the 2020 NFL Draft. Also gone from last year’s Utah roster are starting quarterback Tyler Huntley and running back Zack Moss, both of whom are also now on NFL rosters.

Replacing that much NFL talent has proven challenging for Utah on both sides of the ball. After scoring more than 21 points in all but one of their 2019 games, the Utes have failed to pass that mark once through their two games this season. Things have been noticeably different on defense as well. Utah finished 2019 ranked seventh in the country in points allowed per game, now, they find themselves ranked 62nd.

Granted, much of that drop off in production comes with the caveat of a small sample size. The PAC-12 season has been condensed from 12 to seven regular-season games as is, but Utah’s season has been cut even shorter after having their first two games canceled due to positive COVID-19 tests. Where Oregon State has competed in four full games in 2020, Utah has only two.

Having played a full slate of games might prove advantageous for the Beavers in a way that Utah won’t have the luxury of. Over the course of the season, Oregon State’s offensive production has grown, with last week’s win hitting a season-high in points with 41 after hitting their previous high of 31 the week before. The defense was able to create a season-high three turnovers in that win over the Ducks, after once again having set a new season-best mark the week before. The Utes, meanwhile, will be responsible for adapting to the season quicker than the Beavers have needed to in order to pull out a win on Saturday.

Along with the Beavers as a whole, Oregon State’s star in the backfield, Jermar Jefferson, has been improving as the week’s progress. Last week’s win over Oregon saw the junior hit season-bests for carries and total yards, ending the night with 226 yards from 29 touches on the ground. But Jefferson might be in for his toughest test yet, as the Utes’ defense ranks seventh in rushing yards allowed per game, and 18th in yards allowed per carry.

Whoever can gain the upper hand between Jefferson and a stout Utah run defense might be the team that comes out on top. If the Utes are able to pull out the win, it will be their first of the 2020 season. If it’s the Beavers, it will be their third win of the year and their first winning record through five weeks in six seasons. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 on Dec. 5 in Salt Lake City, Utah. For further coverage of the upcoming game, make sure to return to The Daily Barometer.