Tony Brooks-James sparked UO attack with 54-yard touchdown vs. UCLA
Three yards and a cloud of FieldTurf.
That was essentially Oregon’s approach on offense during last Saturday’s 42-21 victory over UCLA at Autzen Stadium.
The Ducks ran the ball 42 times for 200 net yards against a Bruins defense that entered the game ranked 107th in rushing yards allowed (209.2 ypg).
Now Oregon will face Utah, which leads the Pac-12 and is ninth nationally in rushing defense (100.0 ypg).
Quarterback Justin Herbert said the Ducks must continue to be patient and stick with the ground game Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium (2:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks).
“When we start running the ball, I think we’re a pretty good offense,” Herbert said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s an emphasis we have every week.”
Tony Brooks-James, who has had a quiet senior season with the emergence of redshirt freshman CJ Verdell as the featured back, finally produced a big play in the run game with a 54-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter against the Bruins.
The Ducks (6-3, 3-3) averaged 3.6 yards on their other 41 rushing attempts against UCLA.
“Running between the tackles is something we're doing now, and to see him hit that off-tackle play in a seam was really nice. We all now what he can do in the open field,” offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo said of Brooks-James, who lined up behind Herbert with the first-team offense to start Tuesday’s practice. “We rely on Tony and were going to roll with Tony and he’s going to do a good job.
“He’s got to continue to believe and trust in some of those plays that are a little bit muddier maybe than what he’s used to.”
Oregon is averaging 177.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the Pac-12 and 56th nationally.
Mario Cristobal’s plan for bringing the Ducks back to national prominence begins with building dominant offensive and defensive lines.
Longtime Utah coach Kyle Whittingham has a reputation for getting his teams to control the line of scrimmage consistently.
“You’ve got to try to match their physicality, you’ve got to be really sound in your technique and fundamentals,” Arroyo said. “This will be a good test.”
Safety Jevon Holland, who leads the Pac-12 with four interceptions, was held out of practice. The freshman was working with the training staff during the portion of the session in the Moshofsky Center open to the media.
With Kaulana Apelu out for the remainder of the regular season with a fractured lower leg, sophomore Sampson Niu was taking the snaps with the first-team defense at the inside linebacker spot opposite Troy Dye.
Calvin Throckmorton took the reps at center with the first-team offense. Jake Hanson, who is suspended for the first half of the Utah game after being called for targeting against UCLA, took the second-string snaps.
Freshman wide receiver Bryan Addison, who had been serving an in-team suspension for a violation of team rules, was back at practice Tuesday.
Despite last week’s loss at Arizona State, the Utes (6-3, 4-3) are ranked No. 24 in the coaches poll and tied for first place in the South Division with ownership of the head-to-head tiebreakers over USC and Arizona. … Redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Shelley, who will be making his first career start for Tyler Huntley (fractured collarbone), was not made available to the media this week by Whittingham. … Utah has a 55-game sellout streak at Rice-Eccles Stadium dating back to the 2010 opener.
“We are just focused on Oregon this week,” Whittingham said on the conference race. Utah is the only team that hasn’t won the South Division. “I guess there are dozens of possible scenarios of what could happen, so why waste your time with it? We just know that our task is to try and get a win this week and let the chips fall where they may.”