Utah may be the largest hurdle that remains between Oregon and its playoff dreams. The Utes are 6-2 and have lost their last two games by a combined four points. The atmosphere in Salt Lake City this Saturday night could be the most hostile environment the Ducks will face this season. While reporting for FishDuck.com at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex today, I had the opportunity to speak with Oregon’s Hroniss Grasu about the challenges Utah presents.
One of the first issues Grasu touched on was the potential crowd noise he expects Oregon will face while on offense. “It’s gonna be huge, and it’s definitely something that we’ve been working on in practice this week.” Grasu went on to say, “We’re going to need to get some points on the board early to try and get the crowd out of it. If we start out jumping off sides and making mistakes then we’re going to really let the crowd get into it. Our communication is going to need to be on point.”
Grasu also addressed the challenges the Utes’ defense presents for Oregon’s offensive line. “They run to the ball like crazy and play with a tremendous amount of effort,” Grasu said. “It’s not that they’re doing anything complicated. They’re a regular four down defense, two linebacker box — which means you’ve got to play longer and harder than they do. Whatever happens in this game is going to come down to the offensive line; we need to set the tempo early and get off the ball.”
The Oregon center went on to say that Utah’s defensive linemen are different than most of the others the Ducks have faced. “They have more than one move. A lot of defensive lineman on other teams only have one move, and just move toward the ball if that first move doesn’t work. But guys have second and even a third move, particularly No. 8 (Nate Orchard) on the end. If you look at the film from last year to this year, he’s an entirely different guy. The entire defense as a whole is really well-coached.”
Keep your eye on the battle in the trenches this weekend. The Ducks’ ability to protect Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota will be a key factor in Oregon’s success come Saturday.
Top photo by Craig Strobeck