Center Jake Hanson will rejoin starting O-line as UO faces stout Utah D-line in Pac-12 title game
Kyle Whittingham was asked which individual Oregon player stood out in preparation for the Pac-12 championship.
Utah’s longtime coach noted that the easy answer would be to say quarterback Justin Herbert or one of the Ducks’ skill players.
But Whittingham went with Penei Sewell, the left tackle and Outland Trophy finalist his counterpart, Oregon coach Mario Cristobal, recruited out of Saint George, Utah.
“He’s a beast,” Whittingham said of the 6-foot-6, 325-pound Sewell. “One of the best offensive linemen in the country, if not the best.”
The Ducks’ veteran offensive line, which held its own in the loss to Auburn to open the season and paved the way for key road wins at Washington and USC during conference play, will have to handle arguably the best defensive line in the country to get fitted for championship rings.
No. 13 Oregon (10-2) will face No. 5 Utah (11-1) in the Pac-12 title game on Friday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (5 p.m., ABC).
“Their offensive line is really good,” Whittingham said. “That should be the intriguing matchup of this game and a battle that is going to be pivotal in who wins the game — their offensive line against our defensive line.”
Cristobal announced Monday that center Jake Hanson, who missed the second half of the 31-28 loss at Arizona State and the 24-10 win over Oregon State with an undisclosed injury, will play against Utah.
Hanson is one of four senior starters on the unit, along with left guard Shane Lemieux, right guard Dallas Warmack and right tackle Calvin Throckmorton.
The Ducks lead the nation with 213 career starts on the offensive line.
“Jake is an excellent player. I think anytime you lose a guy that touches the ball on every single play, there’s going to be an impact, there’s going to be an effect,” Cristobal said. “But I thought that Calvin Throckmorton played really well (at center against Oregon State).
“Some of the hiccups that we have had, I wouldn’t say it’s due to that.”
Cristobal noted that at this point in the season, when the opposition has so much film to study tendencies, execution is critical.
Utah’s defense ranks third in the FBS in points allowed (11.3 per game), first in rushing defense (56.3 yards per game), 14th in passing defense (185.3 yards per game) and third in total defense (241.6 yards per game).
“We know we’ve got to do a better job,” said Cristobal, whose offense was held to 365 yards by the Beavers, who rank 106th in yards allowed (445.7 per game). “We’ve and some really great moments this year, and judging by today’s practice, I feel confident that our guys are ready to play well.”
Shocker in Seattle
Whittingham found out about Chris Petersen’s decision to step down as Washington’s coach during a conference call with the media Monday.
“Wow,” he said. “All I’ve got for that is wow.”
After letting the shocking news sink in, Whittingham praised the head Husky.
“Chris Petersen is one of the finest coaches in the country,” Whittingham said. “You’ve got a handful of coaches that you respect and admire, and Chris Petersen is one of my guys.”
Cristobal went 2-0 against Petersen, whose career record is 146-38 (.739) after a stellar run at Boise State and leading Washington to two Pac-12 championships.
“Tremendous amount of respect for coach Petersen and, you know what, he’s had a great career,” Cristobal said. “Certainly wish nothing but the best for him and his family.”
Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake will replace Petersen after the Huskies’ bowl game.
Civil War recognition
Mykael Wright, who returned a kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown against Oregon State, was named the Pac-12 special teams player of the week for the second time.
The freshman joined De’Anthony Thomas (2011) and Jonathan Stewart (2005) as the only Oregon players with two kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season. Wright previously had a 100-yard house call at USC.
Sewell, who didn’t allow the Beavers to hit or pressure Herbert, was the conference’s offensive lineman of the week for the fourth time this season.
Utah tight end Brant Kuithe is the Pac-12 offensive player of the week after finishing with 122 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns against Colorado.
No Broyles for Avalos
Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos is not among the five finalists for the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant.
Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Jeff Hafley, LSU passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Joe Brady, Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning and Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow will be in Little Rock, Ark., when the winner is announced Dec. 10.
Whittingham doesn’t want the Utes talking or thinking about a possible College Football Playoff berth.
“We need to win Friday night. That’s an absolute,” Whittingham said. “If we’re fortunate enough to come away with a win, we feel like we’re a complete football team and can line up and play with anybody.”
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