When No. 3 Ducks and No. 23 Utes collide on ABC, ‘it’s going to be rockin’
There’s plenty at stake for this prime time, nationally televised matchup — including College Football Playoff, national rankings and division championship implications
It’s looking like No. 3 Oregon and No. 23 Utah are on a collision course to play in the Pac-12 Championship game in Las Vegas in December.
But first, there’s a preview.
Utes on the air
No. 3 Oregon (9-1, 6-1)
at No. 23 Utah (7-3, 6-1)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MST
Radio: ESPN 700
The Ducks and Utes clash Saturday (5:30 p.m. MST, ABC) at Rice-Eccles Stadium in a showdown featuring the top team in the Pac-12 North vs. the top team in the Pac-12 South.
There’s plenty at stake for this prime time, nationally televised matchup — including College Football Playoff, national rankings and division championship implications.
Utah is thrilled to be hosting a game of this magnitude, knowing these kind of contests don’t happen often. That’s why wide receiver Britain Covey is savoring this experience.
“It’s a huge week. I feel like you get one game like this per season, where you just know it’s going to be rockin’ in Rice-Eccles. It’s something to look forward to, so I’m pumped,” Covey said. “In all of the years I’ve played, I can think of one or two particular games where they have this kind of atmosphere even going into the week. We’re going to do our best to block that out. But that gives you energy come game day. I’ve played in enough of these games to know that that really has an effect on you. I’m excited for that.”
Linebacker Devin Lloyd said this is one of the biggest games he’s played in during his career at Utah. And he’s happy to be playing it at home.
“It’s going to be fun. I feel like we have the best fans in the world. They always come with great support,” he said. “They’re really loud and they make it tough for any opponent we’re facing. It’s always an electric environment and I’m always excited to go out there.”
There will be a lot eyes on this game — around the country and around the world.
Offensive lineman Bamidele Olaseni, who hails from London, England, said “people back home” will be watching. He’s thrilled to be playing in the type of game.
“It’s just a dream come true,” he said. “A couple of years ago, I was watching these same games, just trying to learn the game. It’s pretty fun, knowing where I came from and this is going to be another fun weekend.”
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal understands the challenge of playing at rowdy Rice-Eccles Stadium. His Ducks don’t just have the Utes to contend with — they also must play in front of a boisterous, energetic crowd.
“Really pack your intangibles is what you need when you go on the road,” Cristobal said. “We know we’re going into a tremendous college football environment where it’s loud, chaotic, their fans do a great job providing the type of atmosphere that you always look forward to in playing college football. But our guys are really looking forward to this opportunity.”
On Monday, Utah coach Kyle Whittingham talked about how this week is business as usual in terms of the routine and preparation, even when preparing for one of the nation’s highest ranked teams.
Covey acknowledged that this isn’t any other game.
“At the end of the day, everybody knows that this week isn’t the same as every other week. We’re going to prepare the same because that’s what’s worked,” he said. “I think that’s what the difference is. This week isn’t the same because of the gravity of the situation, because of the respect we have for our opponent and how we’re going to need to be on top of things but our preparation is the same because that’s what’s been working.”
“As far as how you win, there’s a lot of positives that you can find and teach. That’s when the team is at its most teachable, after wins. Sometimes they get fragile after a loss. So after a win, you can coach them a little bit harder and point out what needs to be corrected.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham
“You try to build off of and maximize whatever happened in the previous game. You try to learn. You learn each game no matter the outcome or how things went down. The key is always finding something that you can teach and make your guys better,” Whittingham said. “What you desire is a win. As far as how you win, there’s a lot of positives that you can find and teach.
“That’s when the team is at its most teachable, after wins. Sometimes they get fragile after a loss. So after a win, you can coach them a little bit harder and point out what needs to be corrected.”
Again, there’s a strong possibility that regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, these two programs could meet again in Las Vegas on Dec. 3. Some have speculated that the coaches on both sides could be holding back before potentially playing in a game with even higher stakes in a few weeks.
“I guess there’s some merit to that. Coaches don’t think that way. At least we don’t,” Whittingham said. “But it will be interesting to see how it plays out. We have work to do. We haven’t done anything yet that’s set in stone. We still have football to be played and games we need to win. That could very well play out.”
“There’s no other focus,” he said, “except this week’s game for us.”
So what will it take for Utah to knock off Oregon?
“I think it’s going to come down to explosive plays — limiting explosive plays on their part and having explosive plays on our part,” Covey said. “You can have these long, sustained drives but it’s tough. We’ve got to find some explosive plays.”
Offensive lineman Nick Ford said it’s going to require outlasting the Ducks until the end. “Twenty-two people on the field, 60 minutes of football and seeing who can go the longest. They’re a physical team and we’re a physical team. The stat lines are very similar. It’s going to be who can make one more play, I believe.”
Lloyd knows what his team has been through and how hard it’s worked since last offseason.
“I’ve always been confident in this team. The more we win and the more we learn from our mistakes, the more confidence we get as a team,” he said. “I’ve always believed in these guys. As a team, we get better and better every week.”
Olaseni is embracing this challenge posed by Oregon.
“They’re a great defense and they have a bunch of great players. It’s going to be fun to get out there. Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to show the people what they want to see — a great football game.”