It was the best time Justin Herbert had during the worst of times for Mark Helfrich.
Herbert’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Darren Carrington gave Oregon a 30-28 upset over then-No. 12 Utah on Nov. 19, 2016.
The Ducks lost the Civil War a week later to finish the season 4-8, which led to the firing of Helfrich and his staff.
Oregon, which is 2-7 on the road since upsetting the Utes two years ago with a true freshman quarterback, is headed back to Salt Lake City to play Utah on Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“That was a time when we were struggling pretty heavily, and it was great to go up there and play well on both sides of the ball,” Herbert recalled after emerging from concussion protocol to pass for 264 yards and two touchdowns during Saturday’s 42-21 win over UCLA at Autzen Stadium. “To have a win like that was special and something we still remember.”
Herbert has another No. 1 receiver to lean on in Dillon Mitchell. The dynamic duo connected eight times for 156 yards and two touchdowns against the Bruins.
"He's a guy that pushes me, and I try to push him as much as I can," Herbert said of Mitchell, who has 71 receptions for 1,095 yards and eight touchdowns over his last 11 games. “He's made me a ton better, and it's great to have a guy like that in the locker room."
Mitchell also spent part of last week in concussion protocol after Oregon’s painful 44-15 loss at Arizona. He took a vicious shot from safety Tristan Cooper, who later said he thought it would be great to knock Herbert’s top target out.
“It’s a violent game, things happen,” Mitchell said. “I was most upset with people saying that I should be upset wth Herbert. That was my only thing. Things happen.
“But if I was (Cooper), I’d try to hurt me, too. That’s just the type of player I am.”
Herbert, who was also injured late in the fourth quarter on a goal-line collision at Arizona, was relieved to have the Pac-12’s leading receiver back healthy against the Bruins.
“Dillon is a competitor, and I’m glad he’s got my back,” Herbert said. “I would never want to put him in a situation like that again and felt horribly about it.”
Utah appeared to be in control of the South Division until starting quarterback Tyler Huntley suffered a broken collarbone during Saturday’s 38-20 loss at Arizona State.
The Utes (6-3, 4-3 Pac-12) will have to turn the offense over to redshirt freshman Jason Shelley, who was 4-for-11 passing for 59 yards with an interception against the Sun Devils. Sophomore walk-on Drew Lisk is the only other available quarterback on Utah’s roster.
Oregon’s lone win during Herbert’s five-game absence in 2017 due to his own fractured collarbone was a 41-20 victory over the Utes in Eugene.
Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins completed nine passes to star receiver N’Keal Harry for 161 yards and three touchdowns. Herm Edwards’ team racked up 536 yards against the Pac-12’s top defense.
“First time in a long time we got pushed around the line of scrimmage,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham lamented after the game. “Their O-line pushed our defensive line around.”
Oregon’s offensive line didn’t dominate UCLA’s front seven, but coach Mario Cristobal and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo recommitted themselves to the run game.
The Ducks finished with 200 yards on the ground with touchdowns from CJ Verdell, Cyrus Habibi-Likio and Tony Brooks-James.
“That’s where our offense starts,” Herbert said. “It starts with the offensive line and the running backs. They did a great job, and it was good to see that again. It just helps us move the ball.”
Cristobal’s offensive line will be without Jake Hanson for the first half at Utah. The starting center was ejected for targeting in the second half against UCLA.
Calvin Throckmorton took over at center with true freshman Steven Jones (left) and Brady Aiello (right) manning the tackle positions.
Starting left tackle Penei Sewell remains out indefinitely with an ankle injury, and Jacob Capra replaced Dallas Warmack at right guard during Saturday’s reshuffling.
“We’re a a little bit banged up, but we’ve got to overcome that,” Arroyo said before the UCLA game when the status of Herbert and Mitchell was still in doubt. “As an O-line group, they’ve got to gel. The mix and match of five guys is always something you’ve got to work with.”