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Business as usual? How Utah is approaching showdown with No. 3 Ducks

Oregon leads the series against Utah 5-2 since the Utes joined the league in 2011

Utah tight end Brant Kuithe catches a pass against Oregon during Pac-12 championship game in Santa Clara, Calif.
Utah tight end Brant Kuithe catches a pass against Oregon during Pac-12 Conference championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. Oregon won 37-15. Kuithe and the Utes host No. 3 Oregon Saturday night at Rice-Eccles Stadium with much on the line.
Daniel Alvarez, Associated Press

Utah and Oregon have engaged in memorable battles over the years on the football field as members of the Pac-12.

Their upcoming matchup, Saturday (5:30 p.m. MST, ABC) at Rice-Eccles Stadium, is expected to be another one.

The No. 3 Ducks (9-1, 6-1) lead the Pac-12 North and the No. 24 Utes (7-3, 6-1) are on top of the Pac-12 South.

Oregon beat Utah in their last meeting in the 2019 Pac-12 Championship game, with the Ducks coming away with a 37-15 victory. In 2015, the Utes pounded Oregon in Eugene, 62-20, marking their first win over the Ducks as members of the Pac-12. Utah also won the 2018 game in Salt Lake City, 32-25.

Oregon leads the series against Utah 5-2 since the Utes joined the league in 2011.

“We’ve had some good back-and-forth with them,” coach Kyle Whittingham said Monday. “We went up there a few years back and got them pretty good. … They’re always talented, they’re always tough matchups every single year.”

This season, the Ducks recorded an impressive road victory against No. 5 Ohio State, with their only loss coming at Stanford in overtime in early October. Oregon was ranked No. 3 in last week’s College Football Playoff rankings.

“It’s a very good football team. Top 3 or 4 in the nation. Tons of talent across the board. Both defensive ends are tremendous players and the linebacker,” Whittingham said. “The quarterback is a big, strong kid that runs the ball well. The offensive line is talented, the skill positions are loaded. They do a good job running the football. So we have our work cut out for us.”

Whittingham likes that his team is playing at home.

“We’re hoping that Rice-Eccles is rocking and that everyone gets there early because it’s a great homefield advantage,” he said.

While there’s so much at stake Saturday, including CFP, league championship and bowl implications with this showdown, Whittingham and his team is maintaining the same routine as every other week.

Asked if this games feels bigger than any other game this season, Whittingham replied, “Nope. They’re all the same, we treat them all the same. We prepare the same exact way — meeting structure, practice structure, everything. That’s how you have to do it in the Pac-12 because if you don’t, it doesn’t matter who you play, you’re going to get beat if you’re not ready to go. We approach it the same exact (way) every single week.”

Both Oregon and Utah need one win to clinch their respective division titles. If both the Ducks and Utes win their divisions, they’ll meet again on Dec. 3 in Las Vegas to settle the Pac-12 championship.

Whittingham acknowledges that such a scenario could play out but added that his program is investing all it can to win Saturday without worrying about a potential rematch.

The coach reiterated that his team and coaching staff is “completely focused” on Oregon right now.

“We’re not looking at anything beyond that. It’s going to be a normal workweek and schedule for our guys,” he said. “The key for the last couple of weeks is to not get ahead of ourselves. There’s no reason to get ahead of ourselves this week with one of the top teams in the country coming in.”

In their 38-29 victory at Arizona last Saturday, the Utes suffered a few key injuries to offensive linemen Nick Ford, Paul Maile and defensive back Faybian Marks.

Whittingham usually addresses injuries if they are season-ending. But with only a couple of weeks of the regular season remaining, he isn’t saying anything about the injury situation.

“We hope for the best,” Whittingham said. “We hope to have more people available this week than we did last week. We’ll see.”