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Opponent Film Study: Utah Utes vs. Oregon Ducks

Ralphie Report looks at the team that Utah will bring to Boulder.

Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, that was a slog. I just watched Oregon @ Utah, and outside of the last 3 minutes of game clock, the game was a pretty rough watch. Sloppy play, weird pacing, and tons of reviews. But I got through it and picked out some plays that could tell us some things about the Utes.

Everyone knows that Utah is a great running team, and this game showed some of that. Joe Williams can bust a TD every single time he totes the rock, and his work around the line of scrimmage is noteworthy. Oregon’s defensive front actually battled the Utes’ offensive line to a draw, something that should give CU fans hope, given that the Buffs outweigh the Ducks significantly at every position. However, looking at the first play, it all starts up front for the Utes.

This is their first drive of the game, and they start off with a play-action pass from Troy Williams.

He shows off why he was one of the top junior college passers last year. He has struggled with decision making this year, but the Oregon game was one of his best. Mostly good throws and no head-scratchers. This play showcases his arm and accuracy. Perfect timing and velocity on that ball, helped by the fact that Oregon inexplicably plays their DB about 15 yards past the line of scrimmage. The DB breaks on the route, but not before Williams fires it in. The play is made by the play action. Oregon has seven in the box, and they all creep up to stop Joe Williams, vacating the middle of the field and clearing up traffic. Despite the weakness in numbers, if Joe Williams were to run this, he could get about five yards before even getting touched. The offensive line just dominated the line of scrimmage. If Troy Williams is on, CU needs to be stout at the point of attack with limited numbers. Williams and Williams can each pick a defense apart, one on the ground and one through the air. The Buffs should used disguised packages and stunts to throw off the o-line.

Next up is the penultimate touchdown of the game. Once again, the run-pass option shows up and Williams makes the right read and throws a perfect strike.

The mismatch on the receiver makes this play. The tight end gets stuck on a linebacker, and Williams recognizes the athleticism deficit of the linebacker. He gets a clean pocket to step into the throw and delivers a strike. The tight end is used down the field often for the Utes, something that has troubled the Buffs all year. USC and Michigan, coincidentally the Buffs’ only losses, both used the tight end against CU’s linebackers to great success. Ryan Moeller or new star Nick Fisher will need to cover the tight end down the field.

Now let’s look at how Oregon succeeded against the Utah defense. The Utes are stout up front, again, and have a Lotuleilei in the middle that’s a star, again. Oregon usually gained yards by attacking the edges of the Utah D. The linebackers are green for Utah, and are more built for run stopping than lateral movement. When Oregon gets them moving side to side, good things happen. Case in point:

Good blocking on the outside (a CU WR staple) springs this play. After the DB is successfully blocked out, no one else from the Ute D had enough speed to stop a significant gain. The strength of their D is the middle, but when they are asked to stop plays in space, it gets dicey. Oregon routinely used their speed to stay in this game. I don’t know if CU can match the Ducks, but they should be fast enough to get yards.

This is a great play to look at because it is a CU staple. The weak side guard pulls, the left side of the line gets moving, and the running back picks his spot and goes.

CU fans have seen this play a hundred times. Now Phillip Lindsay is not Royce Freeman, but he’s doing way better than Freeman this year and he’s bound to have another great performance. The guard pulls, takes out the smaller defender, and gets going upfield. Freeman takes the hole, cuts up immediately, and takes a defender on a ride for a first down. Now if the guard looked to his right and blocked the linebacker coming in, Freeman could have rushed for even more. Utah’s defensive line does well at the point of attack, but once again, the edges are vulnerable and CU has the heft to go outside and push some bodies around. If Lindgren calls a normal game, CU will do just fine.