By Rob Moseley
The idea, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu said later, was that one Oregon defender would watch the backfield for a run, and the other would cover Utah’s tight end.
Instead, both Ekpre-Olomu and a UO safety kept their eyes in the backfield. Thus, when Utes tight end Jake Murphy released from the line he easily got behind the defense and hauled in a 34-yard touchdown reception.
The broken play kept Utah within 10-7 in the second quarter, and was one of few breakdowns by Oregon’s defense in a 44-21 victory Saturday.
“We just had a miscommunication on who was down and who was back; we both ended up coming down,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “It happens sometimes; hopefully not that much.”
Such a glaring breakdown only happened one other time Saturday, as Utah used a 48-yard completion to set up a touchdown just after halftime, getting the Utes within 17-14. Other than that, Oregon’s defense held strong, as Utah didn’t score again until late in the game against UO backups.
“Every game they’re going to have a couple,” UO linebacker Rodney Hardrick said. “We just try to limit those. But I felt like we played OK overall.”
Oregon’s defense held Utah to 2.8 yards per carry, 116 yards on 42 attempts. With backup Adam Schulz pressed into action after starting quarterback Travis Wilson didn’t travel (concussion), the Utes went to the air early and often. Schulz completed 13-of-30 for 181 yards and the score, going 11-of-28 for 99 yards if the two broken plays were subtracted.
The Utes converted 5-of-9 third-down attempts in the first half, shades of the Ducks’ previous game at Stanford. But this was no repeat of that defeat.
“It was fun to move on from the loss, and just play another game,” UO senior linebacker Boseko Lokombo said.
The Ducks cleaned up some communication issues in the second half, Ekpre-Olomu said. That might have been helped by the need to compensate for the absence of linebacker Derrick Malone, a key leader who didn’t play in the second half due to an apparent shoulder injury.
Hardrick said Robinson “stepped up a lot,” and UO defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti predicted afterward that Robinson will be “an outstanding, just an unbelievable linebacker” for Oregon eventually.
Lokombo said the Utes stuck to the game-plan Oregon anticipated before news of Wilson’s injury broke. Ekpre-Olomu acknowledged that Schulz wasn’t quite the same running threat as Wilson, but might have been a better passer. That might explain why Utah attacked downfield more than expected, rather than relying on screens.
“We played hard,” Ekpre-Olomu said. “We did a good job of bouncing back, not letting the last game get to us.”
Hardrick had just one complaint, that “like always, we started off a little shaky. We’re so much better in the second half; I really want us to start in the first half the way we play in the second.”