Physicality will determine the battle in the trenches, and ultimately, the game

CJ Verdell and Tony Brooks-James will look to provide a 1-2 punch that keeps Utah's defense off balance


Scouting the run offense: Last week against UCLA, Oregon got back to its roots and by playing physical football in the trenches and establishing the running game. By doing this, the offense opened up and the Ducks finished with 492 total yards, 200 of which came on the ground.

"We made a decision. The guys, we talked about it and it was about enough is enough; we are going to put our foot in the ground and we are going to recommit ourselves to be the physical team that we started the season as," Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said following the 41-20 win over the Bruins.

Running back CJ Verdell — still not fully healthy from a hip injury sustained earlier in the season — finished with 90 yards on 25 carries and one score. Tony Brooks-James looked explosive again, rushing for 73 yards on five carries, including a game-sealing 54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

These two make a very difficult duo for opposing defenses to stop. Verdell is a hard runner, often punishing defenses by lowering his pads and going full speed ahead. Brooks-James is the opposite, an athletic and shifty back who uses quickness and burst to create havoc.

But there two could find trouble going up against a Utah rush defense that gives up 100 yards per game, ninth best in the nation. The Utes are big and physical up front, just understanding their roles and doing them to perfection. Rarely does the defensive line make a mistake, instead occupying blockers for linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton. \

“Their defensive line does a good job controlling the line of scrimmage,” Cristobal said. “They're complete linebackers and when they close, they understand how to tackle and how to get a guy on the ground.”

But, the Utes are coming off a poor performance against Arizona State last week, giving up 251 yards and two scores on the ground.

“We didn't play physical like we normally do, and we made some mental mistakes,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We didn't fit with the linebackers at times and we didn't tackle well.”

The Utes will try to limit the Ducks on the ground altogether, forcing quarterback Justin Herbert to beat the them. If Utah can contain Oregon’s running game without having to overload the box, it would be a massive win in making the Ducks offense one-dimensional.

But Oregon will try to stick with the recipe of success they found last week, using its power and physicality to win in the trenches. If the Ducks can win on first and second down, setting up for third-and-short, Utah will be in a heap of trouble the entire game.

“We were 8-of-17 on third down, and on 14 of those it was five yards or less,” Cristobal said. “We feel really good about our chances whenever third down is five yards or less.”