Breaking down the battle: Oregon's O-line vs. Utah's D-line
Two Pac-12 powerhouses meet in Eugene, OR this week to kick off conference play: Oregon and Utah. The undefeated Utes look to hand Oregon their second loss of the season after getting trounced by the Ducks at home last year. Let’s meet the unsung heroes up front for each squad.
PFF’s top-rated tackle, Tyrell Crosby (+13.9), has been the standout performer for the Oregon offensive line this season. The sophomore right tackle has the highest run block grade (+13.1) in the nation, which is five full points ahead of the second-ranked tackle. LT Tyler Johnstone (+2.6) has been steady protecting the blind side for QBs Vernon Adams and Jeff Lockie and has the highest pass block grade on the team (+3.6). The reason Oregon is averaging 50 points per contest is the ground game. This unit owns our third-ranked run blocking grade (+26.9) thanks to the aforementioned tackles, LG Matt Pierson (+3.4) and a combination of Cameron Hunt (+7.1) and Doug Brenner (+2.7) manning the RG spot. The worst grade of the starting OL belongs to C Matt Hegarty (-8.3).
Utah owns the ninth-highest run defense grade (+34) and the 10th-highest pass-rush grade (+17.5). The star for the defensive line has been sophomore DT Lowell Lotuleilei (+12.7). After garnering First Team Freshman All-American honors in 2014, the younger brother of former Ute and current Carolina Panthers DT, Star Lotuleilei, has started 2015 off on fire. He is the third-ranked defensive interior run defender with a +10.1 grade and is the anchor of this unit. Jason Fanaika (+5.8) and Hunter Dimick (+4.4) fill the DE spots, although Dimick missed Week 3 with a knee injury. He’s questionable for this game, but look for Kylie Fitts (+2.2) to step up admirably if he can’t go. Filipo Mokofisi (+1.7) is Lotuleilei’s counterpart at DT and has played very well. The defensive line for Utah is deep and the rest of the rotation is highly-graded this season. Viliseni Fauonuku (+7.4), Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (+5.4) and Pita Taumoepenu (+3.7) are more than capable of shouldering the load when their numbers are called.
Oregon offensive line wins if…
They communicate in the passing game by avoiding protection breakdowns and hold their blocks in the run game. A split-second of shielding the defender in the run game goes a long way in this quick-hitting Oregon offense. The talented running backs for the Ducks don’t need much room to find a hole and gain large chunks of yards.
Utah defensive line wins if…
They quickly shed their blocks and turn their hurries (40 through three games) into sacks. The Utes are stout up front and are stronger than the taller and rangier Oregon offensive line. Keeping fresh legs on the defensive line and causing negative plays will go a long way in defeating the Ducks.
Utah over Oregon
Michigan State proved you can rattle and disrupt this Oregon offense. Utah will harass whoever is under center for the Ducks, bottle up Royce Freeman, and notch a few sacks to stun the Autzen Stadium crowd.