The big question facing Utah when it hosts Oregon is whether Jason Shelley can pick up where Tyler Huntley left off.
Shelley, a redshirt freshman, will make his first career start Saturday against the Ducks in place of Huntley, who broke his collarbone in the third quarter of Utah’s 38-20 loss last week to Arizona State.
Shelley struggled after being thrown into action against the Sun Devils. He threw for 59 yards and an interception on 4-of-11 passing. With a full week of taking reps as a starter in practice, and having the game plan adjusted to fit his individual strengths, Utah’s coaches are confident Shelley can produce better results against the Ducks.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said Shelley is similar to Huntley in his running and passing skill set. Whittingham said the freshman also brings a fearless attitude that will help the offense adjust to Shelley quicker.
“One thing is he’s very calm under pressure,” Whittingham said. “Not that Tyler is not, but his demeanor is very even-keeled. He doesn’t panic and doesn’t press.”
The Utes will need Shelley to adjust to his new role quickly after losing Zack Moss to a knee injury. Moss suffered the injury at practice Wednesday and now will require season-ending surgery.
It’s a big blow to the Utah offense. Moss ranks third in the Pac-12 in rushing yardage with 1,092 yards. His 6.1 yards per carry are second-best among running backs in the league.
Oregon expected Moss to be the top concern for its defense Saturday. Even with the Utes missing a pair of key playmakers, the Ducks don’t count on it making things go any smoother with Utah.
“With Utah, which is a great football program, it starts and ends with their physicality on both sides of the ball,” Oregon coach Mario Cristobal said. “Up front, by the truck load, they have big powerful guys that set the tone for the game. That’s always been part of their identity.”
The Ducks will give Utah’s defense plenty of things to worry about as well.
Justin Herbert is one of the league’s better passers. He has thrown for 2,333 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing 59 percent of his passes. The junior lit up the Utes two years ago in a 30-28 win for Oregon in Salt Lake City, throwing for 324 yards and three touchdowns.
Herbert’s top target, Dillon Mitchell, leads the Pac-12 with 833 yards and six touchdowns on 56 catches. Mitchell has tallied at least 500 yards more than any other Oregon receiver this season and has a league-best 735 receiving yards on 50 catches in Pac-12 play.
“We’d like to spread it around more, but Dillon just does a great job of getting open,” Herbert said. “He runs great routes and is able to identify the coverage and adjust and do things that get him open.”
Stanford eyeing bowl eligibility
After opening the season with four consecutive victories and high expectations, Stanford finds itself in an unusual situation when it hosts Oregon State on Saturday.
The Cardinal (5-4, 3-3 Pac-12) need a win to become bowl-eligible.
Stanford appeared in the Pac-12 championship game in five of David Shaw’s first seven years as head coach. The worst the Cardinal has fared under Shaw is third in the Pac-12 North.
But Stanford has lost four of its last five games and is currently tied for third with Oregon heading into Saturday’s game with the Beavers (2-7, 1-5), who are coming off a loss to Southern California.
The Cardinal has won eight straight over Oregon State, winning last year 15-14 thanks to a late fumble recovery.
“They’ve got kids that play hard and with heart,” Shaw said. “We saw that last year. We won on the scoreboard and they kicked our butts all over the field in all three phases. We’ve lost four of the last five games. I don’t have time to worry about anything else.”
With top receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside declared out for the game, quarterback K.J. Costello will look to tight ends Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson and receiver Trenton Irwin for production.
Wide receiver Connor Wedington returned to action against Washington last week and Shaw said “he’s likely to start in place of JJ. He came in and played well. Hopefully we’ll see a lot more of Connor this game.”