The No. 18 Oregon Ducks were guarded against seeing Utah State as an easy win. Recent history has pointed reminders: Appalachian State over Michigan, Stanford over Southern California.
EUGENE — The No. 18 Oregon Ducks were guarded against seeing Utah State as an easy win. Recent history has pointed reminders: Appalachian State over Michigan, Stanford over Southern California.
"We still have to work hard. We still have to play hard," running back Jeremiah Johnson said about the tone this week, leading up to that game against the Aggies. "We still have things we need to work on and things we need to polish up."
The Ducks are coming off a decisive season-opening 44-10 victory over Washington, in which their offense looked good and their defense looked better.
They are hosting a Utah State team that finished 2-10 last season, and opened with a 27-17 loss to UNLV. The Aggies also have won just one of 45 games against a ranked opponent. That was back in 1991, when they upset 25th-ranked Fresno State 20-19.
The Aggies lost to the sixth-ranked Ducks 38-21 in 2001. It was the most recent of three meetings with the Ducks, all of them losses.
"It's definitely a challenge," Utah State defensive end Darby Golden said earlier this week. "As a team, we want to rise to the challenge and we're really looking forward to it. We're going to practice hard this week and be positive the whole time and try to come away with a win."
Oregon, meanwhile, has lost just one non-conference game at Autzen Stadium in coach Mike Bellotti's past 13 seasons.
Probably the most intriguing story line Saturday will be at quarterback — for both teams.
Oregon's Justin Roper went down with a concussion in last week's victory over Washington and didn't practice with the team until Wednesday.
He was expected to start against Utah State, but could be given a light load if the Ducks build a sizable lead. Bellotti may give backup Jeremiah Masoli and true freshman Chris Harper, who both played against the Huskies, more game experience.
Johnson, who rushed for a career-high 124 yards against Washington, said the Ducks are comfortable with the rotating quarterbacks, given what happened late last season when Dennis Dixon and backup Brady Leaf both got injured.
"It's easier now because we know how to deal with it," Johnson said. "When one goes down we know how to pick the next guy and give them the confidence they need."
Against Washington, Roper completed 7-of-11 passes for 114 yards, a touchdown and an interception before he was injured. Masoli was 9-for-17 for 126 yards and two touchdowns, and Harper — who didn't throw a pass — rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Utah State also will use a couple of quarterbacks.
Sean Setzer completed 10 of 17 passes for 123 yards, and threw an interception, in Utah State's loss to UNLV. Sophomore Diondre Borel completed eight of 16 passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 70 yards.
"Both of those guys are still going to play and we are going to need both those guys all through the year," coach Brent Guy said. "We are going to have two different styles of play but when they are both on, both of them play well."
Utah State is 3-19 on the road under Guy, in his fourth season.
Of late, the Aggies have had a tough time in September, losing all four of the month's games last season, and five games in 2006.
Utah State hasn't defeated a Pac-10 school since 1965, when it beat Arizona State 13-0.
With the odds against them, Utah State was still looking forward to the challenge — even more reason for the Ducks to guard against overconfidence.
"Oregon is going to be a great place to play. They have a terrific history and tradition," Utah State running back Robert Turbin said. "But we're going down there to try to win a football game, regardless of what they're ranked or what they've done in the past, what the stats say or who people think is going to win the game."