Oregon loss highlights defensive troubles

By By Liz Frome, Staff Writer

By Liz Frome, Staff Writer

Utah’s first loss in 17 games was highlighted by mistakes on both offense and defense, but the area the Utes seemed to struggle in the most was containing Oregon on rushing yards. Utah held the Ducks to just 95 passing yards at Autzen Stadium, but could not do the same on the ground.

“Our defense was spotty,” said head coach Kyle Whittingham after Utah’s 31-24 loss to Oregon on Saturday. “We’ve got to become more consistent in that.”

Prior to Saturday’s loss, Whittingham named Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli as the Utes’ biggest challenge of week three. Masoli confirmed himself as a tough contender for Utah’s defense, and proved to be the biggest threat when he kept the ball, rushing for two touchdowns and 98 total yards.

They also had a problem limiting Oregon running back LaMichael James on the ground, allowing him to add another 78 yards to the Ducks’ run offense.

The majority of Oregon’s big offensive plays came in the first half, highlighting a common problem for Utah’s defense in weeks one, two and three of the 2009 season. The defense again looked shaky and unprepared for the challenge it was facing.

The Utes started the game on offense but were unable to reach the end zone on their first trip down field, forcing Sean Sellwood to punt. The punt was returned 78 yards for a touchdown and gave Oregon the momentum for the first half. Utah managed to get on the scoreboard and ended the half down 21-10, but the momentum never really shifted to the Utes until the end of the third.

With under four minutes left in the third quarter, Utah linebacker Mike Wright forced a fumble by Masoli, which safety Robert Johnson returned 29 yards for a touchdown. The play brought the struggling Utes within four points of the Ducks, and emphasized the tendency of Utah’s defense to correct errors and rebuild in the second half.

“There’s always a way to win,” said Utah linebacker Stevenson Sylvester. “We were down 18 at one point, and we still felt like we could win. It’s never over until the last second goes off, and that’s how we’ve got to attack every play.”

In the fourth quarter, Johnson made another great play, intercepting a pass by Masoli in the end zone to stop the Ducks’ drive and prevent the score that would have sealed the loss earlier for the Utes.

“Robert Johnson, he’s a playmaker. He’s one of the best safeties in the conference, and that’s what he’s been doing for us for three years now,” Whittingham said.

With Louisville next on the preseason schedule, the Utes will have another chance to get more comfortable in run and first-half defense, and try to claim a win at home before the start of their conference schedule.

“Our defense hasn’t shown a lot these first two games,” Sylvester said. “We know what we’re capable of, we’ve just got to go out there and do more each and every week.”

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Tyler Cobb

Robert Johnson picked up the ball and ran for a TD after Jeremiah Masoli fumbled it. The TD was the Utes? second in 17 seconds and pulled the Utes within 4 points.

Lennie Mahler

Robert Johnson intercepts a pass in the end zone intended for Jeff Meahl.