9:00 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Oregon State -3.0, Over/Under: 45.0
Pac-12 contenders clash tonight in Corvalis, as the (No. 10) Utah Utes battle the (No. 19) Oregon State Beavers in a Friday Night affair from what could be a foggy Reser Stadium, which as we have seen in the past can often lead to some unexpected results. It really is ironic that in what is for all intents and purposes the final season of the legendary Pac-12 as we know it, that their residents have saved their best for last before bolting to a new home. Seriously, folks, after going seven years without a single representative in the College Football Playoff, the conference is going for broke, with SIX of their number enjoying a spot in the AP Poll, including FOUR residing in the top-10 of the rankings. Of course, this brings us to Utah (4-0, 1-0 in Pac-12), who despite not possessing the history and star power of USC or Washington or the allure and coolness of Oregon have nonetheless carved out their own place within the league en route to winning each of the last two conference titles. (Head Coach) Kyle Whittingham would like to make that three in a row before the program moves to the Big XII next year, and though the road appears tougher than ever, we’d be hard-pressed to count these Utes out in regard to a three-peat, which hasn’t been done since Oregon in the early half of the 2010s. However, it feels as if the deck has been stacked against them since the beginning as injuries have really kept the offense from reaching the prolific heights that it did last fall. In 2022, Utah averaged 38.6 points per game on 466.9 total yards, by far and away the most during Whittingham’s nineteen years in Salt Lake City. This year, they were expected to get close to those numbers, particularly with seven returning starters on this side of the football, though injuries have unfortunately kept them from reaching their potential. No more has this been more evident than at Quarterback, where it really has been a game-to-game situation. After putting together a fantastic junior campaign that had many throwing his name in the Heisman discussion, (Senior) Cameron Rising suffered a torn ACL in the Rose Bowl, putting his availability this fall into serious question. As it has played out, Rising has yet to start for the Utes this season, while the next man in line, (Redshirt Freshman) Brandon Rose has also been sidelined through the first four games due to an undisclosed injury. (Sophomore) Bryson Barnes, who saw action in each of the last two Rose Bowls in place of an injured Rising, performed well in the 24-11 victory over Florida in the opener, but struggled mightily in a narrow 20-13 win at Baylor a week later, before being benched in favor of (Redshirt Freshman) Nate Johnson in the following week’s 31-7 win over Weber State. Used primarily as a Wildcat QB last year, Johnson (pictured below) has completed 63.3% of his passes for 398 yards with two touchdowns opposed to zero interceptions, while rushing for 150 yards and another three scores on forty-seven carries. the difference thus far between he and Barnes has been his ability to not only make plays with his speed and athleticism, but also in attacking downfield; Barnes was netting just 6.2 yards per attempt through two games, while Johnson has logged a much healthier 8.1 yards per throw. With that being said, this unit isn’t going to be confused with last year’s group, as they’ve managed to score a meager 22.2 points per game (100th in FBS) on 322.5 total yards, including just 157.0 through the air. Thankfully, an experienced defense that returns NINE starters has been up to task, relinquishing a scant 9.5 points (6th in FBS) on 263.8 total yards, forcing SEVEN turnovers through the first four contests. Indeed, this group was the star of the show in last weekend’s 14-7 victory over UCLA, as they smothered the visiting Bruins, who could muster just 243 total yards on eleven first downs. It isn’t often that you’re going to win when you post 219 yards of your own, but credit Whittingham’s defense for demolishing a team that upset them 42-32 in last year’s trip to Los Angeles. Seriously, folks, the hosts permitted just NINE rushing yards in this one despite thirty-two attempts from the visitors, while (Junior Linebacker) Karene Reid opened Utah’s account with a 21-yard pick-6 on the game’s opening drive. As for the Utes’ offense, (Sophomore Tailback) Jaylon Glover rushed for eighty-six yards on twenty-five attempts, while Johnson completed 9-of-17 passes for 117 yards and a touchdown to (Senior Receiver) Landen King. Can this team successfully defend their crown despite such unremarkable showings on offense? We’ll have to wait and see, ladies and gentlemen…
From a betting perspective, Utah is 2-1-1 against the spread through the early stages of this season, running their record in that regard to a stellar 127-101-4 under the leadership of Whittingham, who has covered 54.7% of his games as their Head Coach. Dating back to last season, the Utes have covered six of their last ten games, though that mark is flipped in their last ten trips away from Salt Lake City, covering the line in just four of those road ventures. The reigning Pac-12 Champions are a stellar 87-69-1 against the spread against their fellow conference inhabitants, covering their opening league affair as a 3.5-point favorite in last weekend’s victory over UCLA. With that said, where this team has REALLY been a wise play has been as a road underdog, posting a 25-15 record against the spread under Whittingham and covering four of their last five outings contested away from Rice-Eccles Stadium in which they’ve received points from the oddsmakers. Buying further into that narrative, the favorite in this series has covered just three of the last seven meetings, with Utah wearing that hat in all of those contests. With that being said, the last time that they traveled to Corvalis, they suffered their lone defeat of the 2021 campaign, a 34-42 shocker in which they wasted an early 14-0 lead. It should also be stated that their recent offensive shortcomings do not bode well for those betting on these Utes, who are 0-7-1 against the spread in their last eight games after producing less than 275 total yards of offense and 2-9-1 in their last twelve tilts after passing for fewer than 170 yards, with each of those trends being relevant tonight. When these sides met last season, Whittingham’s troops found themselves in a reasonably close battle up until the middle of the third quarter, with the twelfth-ranked team in the country running off TWENTY-ONE unanswered points to earn a 42-16 victory. The aforementioned Rising was the star of said show with 272 total yards and four touchdowns, hooking up with Vele for seven receptions, ninety-four yards, and one score. Speaking of Rising, it really is anyone’s guess as to when he will return to action as Whittingham has kept him in reserve following offseason ACL surgery. The senior has been listed as questionable in each of their four games this season and has been pronounced so once more for this trip to Reser Stadium. The same can be said for (Senior Tight End) Brant Kuithe, who has also yet to play in 2023 following ACL surgery of his own, while (Junior Tailback) Micah Bernard will miss the remainder of the campaign due to an undisclosed injury suffered in the season opener. As for those with a shot at playing tonight, (Junior Defensive End) Connor O’Toole, (Senior Receiver) Mycah Pittman, and the aforementioned Rose are all listed as questionable to participate with various ailments. Looking ahead, Utah will enjoy a much-needed bye week after this clash with Oregon State, before hosting California and heading to Los Angeles for a rematch of last year’s Pac-12 Championship Game with (No. 8) USC, which could very well decide the postseason fate of both teams.
Meanwhile, with all of the traditional powers leaving the Pac-12 for greener pastures next season, the future of Oregon State (2-1, 0-1 in Pac-12) is currently murkier than the fog on a weekend night in Corvalis. As of this moment, the Beavers do not have a set conference that they will be aligning with next fall, though there have been concrete talks of joining leagues such as the Mountain West or American Athletic, which would both make sense from a logistical standpoint. However, while their future remains cloudy, their present has been very clear, folks, for (Head Coach) Jonathan Smith has himself a solid team on his hands. In his sixth season at his alma mater where he played Quarterback from 1998 to 2001, Smith has done a tremendous job of turning around a flailing program; in 2021, he led them to their first winning season since 2013, while proving that it was indeed no fluke with last year’s surprising 10-3 finish, which was the school’s THIRD 10-win campaign ever. This fall, he clearly had designs on leveling up, which was evident in the moves that he made in the transfer portal, particularly at Quarterback where he added (Clemson transfer) D.J. Uiagalelei. For a variety of reasons, the former number one overall recruit in the nation failed to live up to lofty expectations at Clemson, though has nonetheless found a new lease on life in Corvalis, where he looks like a clear NFL prospect. Through four games, Uiagalelei (pictured below) has completed 57.8% of his passes for 828 yards on 8.1 yards per attempt, with seven touchdowns opposed to three interceptions, while making good use of his immense 6-4, 251-pound frame in the red zone, rushing for another five scores to boot. Granted, he is still very much building a rapport with his supporting cast, particularly a Receiving Corps that is rather light on experience; (Junior Wideouts) Anthony Gould and Silas Bolden have been the most prominent pass-catchers thus far, with both totaling 10+ receptions and 200+ receiving yards along with a combined three scores. With the big fella pulling the trigger, the offense has reached new heights in scoring 39.5 points per game (20th in FBS) on 459.5 total yards, including 234.8 through the air and another 224.8 on the ground, with (Tailbacks) Damien Martinez and Deshaun Fenwick gashing opponents for over 6.5 yards per carry. Ater earning early victories over the likes of San Jose State (42-17), Cal-Davis (55-7), and San Diego State (26-9), Smith & Co faced their first true test in a trip to Pullman against No. 21) Washington State which served as wake-up call for the Beavers. Falling behind 7-21 early in the second quarter and later 14-35 in the third period, the visitors finally found their rhythm with twenty-one points in the final stanza, though there simply wasn’t enough time to complete the rally. In the end, Oregon State was outgained decisively 440-528, despite rushing for a whopping 242 yards and four touchdowns on thirty-nine carries with Martinez, Fenick, and Uiagalelei comprising all but one yard of that total. However, the difference in the game was that the visitors simply couldn’t slow down the Cougars’ passing attack, which amassed 422 yards and four scores on the night. For his part, Uiagalelei struggled in this one, totaling just 198 yards despite attempting thirty-four passes with a touchdown and interceptions apiece, while WSU sacked him twice and pressured the big fella throughout the affair. Coming into this season, OSU figured to take a step backward in terms of pass defense, given that they lost three starters from last year, though they simply must do better than allowing Cameron Ward to complete the 29-of-35 passes that he did last weekend. Fortunately, they face a Utah side that has really struggled throwing the football through the early part of this season, which should give (Defensive Coordinator) Trent Bray something to build a solid gameplan upon tonight.
From a betting perspective, Oregon State has split their four games against the spread thus far, running their record in that regard under Smith to a stellar 36-24-1 (.590). Dating back to last season, they have covered the number in eight of their last ten games overall, including all but one of their last ten outings contested at Reser Stadium. Furthermore, they’ve proven to be easy money when favored by the oddsmakers, covering nine of their last ten such tilts, while posting a commanding 11-2 mark as a home favorite under Smith’s leadership, currently riding a streak of four consecutive covers when favored by as many as three points, which is the case tonight. The Beavers are also 24-19-1 versus the spread against Pac-12 opponents since 2018, though are coming off their first loss of the season in that regard, narrowly meeting defeat at Washington State despite being a 3-point favorite in Pullman. Speaking of being favored, tonight’s clash with the Utes will mark the first time in over seven years that OSU has earned the favor of the oddsmakers in this series. When these teams met last season in Salt Lake City, Oregon State gave the twelfth-ranked hosts everything they could handle for roughly 2.5 quarters of play, trailing 13-21 at halftime and 16-21 midway through the third period, before getting blasted 0-21 the rest of the way in that aforementioned 16-42 affair. The visitors held advantages in total yards (417-361), first downs (22-20), rushing yards (171-162), and passing yards (246-199), but were ultimately done in by FOUR interceptions, two apiece from (Quarterbacks) Ben Gulbranson and Chance Nolan, though barring injury neither is expected to see action tonight. It was a forgettable day for Martinez, who posted the lowest yards per carry (2.3) of an otherwise fruitful freshman campaign that ended in Pac-12 Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. On the injury front, the Beavers are much healthier than their opponent tonight, with the only player listed as questionable being (Freshman Wideout) Tastean Reddicks, who has yet to see action this season due to an undisclosed injury leaving many to believe that he will ultimately be redshirted this fall. Looking ahead, OSU will travel to Berkley to battle California next weekend, followed by a showdown with UCLA in Corvalis before enjoying their bye week.