In an interview for FishDuck.com Thursday, I spoke with Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
Oregon’s matchup against No. 17 Utah is getting closer by the minute, and the Ducks have already had a long week of practice to develop the right game-plan. One of the main things the Ducks have been preparing for is Utah’s ability to give the defense different looks by the way they handle their offensive line. Utah is known for substituting different linemen on each snap, which has enabled the Utes to execute successfully by confusing opposing defenses with an array of different looks. “They have a proud tradition at that position (offensive line) at Utah and they’re very physical,” Helfrich said.
However, Utah’s ability to confuse the Ducks’ front-seven won’t be Oregon’s only concern. The Utes also have one of the most dynamic special teams in the country. Utah’s punter, Tom Hackett, and kicker Andy Phillips are ranked near the top in nearly every punting and kicking category, and the Utes also possess an explosive kick returner in Kaelin Clay. The speedy senior has returned three punts for a touchdown and he has a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown as well.
Helfrich says that Utah’s speedy kick returner has been one of the main focal points in practice this week. “He’s big and fast and he breaks a ton of tackles,” he said. “He’s not afraid to go outside of the form of the return and he’s a dynamic guy.”
Although Utah’s special teams unit has received a lot of praise this season, it’s safe to say that the offensive attack starts with standout running back Devontae Booker. In his first season with the Utes, Booker has rushed for 990 yards and eight touchdowns, and he has been on a tear the past five weeks by averaging nearly 162 rushing yards. Booker’s breakout performance came in Week 7 when he rushed for 229 yards and scored three touchdowns in a win against Oregon State.
“He (Booker) is dynamic and he is a powerful runner. He’s hard to tackle even for a taller guy and he runs with great pad level,” Helfrich said. “He’s very physical; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him get tackled by one guy. It’s going to be a committee approach and a gang tackle approach to stop him.”
It wont be easy, but the Ducks are determined to fight for a victory in a tough environment this Saturday.
Top Photo by Kevin Cline