The way Utah coach Kyle Whittingham sees it, the biggest difference between the Oregon team that the Utes defeated twice last season, and the Ducks squad that his team faces Saturday, is simple. 

“The QB,” Whittingham said. “Without a doubt. Bo Nix is a tremendous player. He’s second or third in QBR in the country. We have five Pac-12 quarterbacks in the top 12 of QBR, which speaks to the level of quarterbacks in this conference. That is absolutely the single biggest difference between last year and this year.” 

Nix, an Auburn transfer, has completed 219 of 300 passes for 2,775 yards, with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions, and he’s rushed 78 times for 516 yards with 14 TDs.

The Utes have faced several dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks this season, including UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson, USC’s Caleb Williams, Washington State’s Cameron Ward and Arizona’s Jayden de Laura. 

How does Nix compare to those other QBs?

“Very favorably,” Whittingham said. “He’s the highest-rated quarterback we’ve played if you look at the QBR. He’s No. 3 in the nation. He’s completing 73% of his balls. He does a great job running the football. He’s a perfect fit for that offense.”

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Utah linebacker Karene Reid said Nix is a tough matchup when the No. 12 Utes visit No. 10 Oregon Saturday (8:30 p.m. MST, ESPN). 

“In my opinion, he seems to be the most balanced. Jayden de Laura is such a jitterbug and hard to catch,” he said. “Caleb Williams can take it down the field. But this guy’s got it all. And he’s smart. He’s been sacked only twice so that goes to show that he can take care of the ball and throw it away. He’s an impressive quarterback.”

Nix is a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award — which recognizes the top senior or upperclassman QB — and a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien Award. 

“He’s a good passer,” said Utah cornerback Clark Phillips III. “He has the ability to escape the pocket and throw the ball. He has a lot of weapons.”

However, Nix suffered an injury in last week’s 37-34 loss to Washington. 

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If Nix is not available, backup quarterback Ty Thompson would make his first collegiate start. Thompson has seen action in six games in a reserve role this season. 

Oregon quarterback Ty Thompson tries to elude Stanford cornerback Ethan Bonner Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Eugene, Ore. If starter Bo Nix is unable to go against the Utes on Saturday in Eugene, Thompson will get his first collegiate start. | Andy Nelson, Associated Press

“Ty has consistently been right there for us — he’s been that guy,” Lanning said. “Anybody whose number is called, I think will be ready.”

As for Nix’s situation, Lanning said, “We’re being really conscientious of him and his reps —we wanna do a good job taking care of him, but he’s preparing himself as if he can go.”

Besides Nix, starting center Alex Forsyth and right guard Ryan Walk are battling through injuries and it’s not clear if they’ll be able to play. 

Since losing 49-3 to No. 1 Georgia to open the season, Oregon has been prolific on offense.

The Ducks are No. 2 nationally in total offense per game (528.2), No. 4 in points per game (42.2) and No. 9 in rushing yards per game (239.9). 

“They’ve got a lot of good weapons. They have a good O-line. And they’ve got good confidence,” Phillips said. “They’ve put some good games together doing good things offensively in terms of play-calling and just making plays. I like what their receivers do.”

Wideout Troy Franklin, a Biletnikoff Award finalist, has caught 44 passes for 775 yards and six touchdowns. 

“I think he’s a heckuva playmaker. He has a really, really good catch radius,” Phillips said about Franklin. “Then he goes up and gets it. That’s something that makes a great receiver. Being able to go up and grab the ball. That’s something Troy Franklin does a good job with.”

And Oregon boasts a pair of standout running backs — Mar’Keise Irving (120 carries, 837 yards, two TDs) and Noah Whittington (103 carries, 623 yards, four TDs).

But, of course, Nix is the catalyst for the Ducks’ offense. 

Prior to transferring to Oregon, Nix experienced an up-and-down career at Auburn, where his dad, Patrick, played QB in the 1990s. 

Fans at Auburn referred to him as either “Good Bo” or “Bad Bo,” depending on the play. 

After the 2021 season, Nix entered the transfer portal and ended up in Eugene, where offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham was hired by first-year coach Dan Lanning. 

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Dillingham, 32, had been Nix’s offensive coordinator at Auburn. 

But he’s been rejuvenated at Oregon — and he’s been “Good Bo” almost all season long. 

“There’s nothing better than when you know your coach loves you and has your back. You play better. You play harder,” Nix told The Athletic recently. 

“No matter what you do, you’re going to be wrong. … I feel like now, just being out of it, no more personal ties, it’s refreshing and it’s the player I’d like to be. I want to show my teammates I’m here for them and I want them to succeed.”

Reid had never heard about Nix before he arrived at Oregon. All he’s seen on tape is “Good Bo.”

“I’m super impressed. What catches my eye is his composure,” he said. “He just seems like he’s always comfortable, no matter what the defense is running. We’ve got to cause some havoc in the backfield.”

A key part of the defensive game plan, Reid said, is getting pressure on Nix. 

“We’ve done a great job of that leading up to this game,” he said. “In the last game, we had seven sacks. So we’ve got to bring it.”

The Utes beat the Ducks twice last year, including in the Pac-12 championship game. 

When Reid compares that Oregon team to the one Utah will face on Saturday, it’s easy for him to identify the difference. 

“Their quarterback, their new coach,” he said. “It’s a new offense. They have new wrinkles in their playbook now.”

So will the Utes face “Good Bo” or “No Bo” on Saturday? 

Utes on the air

No. 10 Utah (8-2, 6-1)

at No. 12 Oregon (8-2, 6-1)

Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MST

Autzen Stadium


Radio: ESPN 700