The Colorado Buffaloes are set to take on the Oregon Ducks in Eugene Saturday in a Pac-12 clash on national network television. The Buffs fell to 2-5 overall and 1-3 in conference play following a 26-3 loss to California last week. However, given the 34-0 win over Arizona the week prior, as well as Oregon's string of close games and the unexpected results across the college football landscape in 2021, Colorado won't be overlooked by the Ducks.
Oregon suffered a 31-24 upset loss to Stanford in overtime on Oct. 2, survived a visit from Cal the following Friday night, and beat UCLA 34-31 at the Rose Bowl this past Saturday. The Ducks are 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12 and sit tied with rival Oregon State atop the Pac-12 North standings. If Oregon wins out, it will play in the conference championship game. The Ducks are also ranked No. 7 in the Associated Press Top 25 and have arguably the most impressive win of any team in the country: A 35-28 victory over Ohio State on Sept. 11. In other words, Oregon still has everything to play for.
Colorado at No. 7 Oregon
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 30 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Oregon -24
When Colorado Has the Ball
It looked like Colorado may have turned a corner offensively when the Buffaloes scored 34 points in a victory over Arizona two weeks ago. Instead, Colorado was simply able to take advantage of its matchup against a team with the longest losing streak in the country. Last week, the Buffaloes were held without a touchdown and managed just 104 total yards and an average of 2.26 yards per play against Cal. Only the 30-0 loss to Minnesota on Sept. 18, when Colorado was held to 64 total yards and 1.40 yards per play, was worse. The Buffs rank No. 125 nationally in scoring (15.1 ppg), 130th in total offense (238.1 ypg), and 127th in yards per play. Against FBS opponents, those numbers fall to 11.8 points and 214.0 total yards per contest, and 3.90 yards per snap: 129th, 130th, and 129th, respectively. And looking at more advanced metrics, Colorado also ranks among the worst teams in the country in points per drive (0.78) and Expected Points Added per play (-0.153), both adjusted for non-garbage time against FBS opponents.
Colorado's offensive line has taken a lot of blame for the team's struggles, and head coach Karl Dorrell addressed it by firing position coach Mitch Rodrigue this week. There's hope the move will offer a spark to a unit that helped pave the way for 212.3 rushing yards per game in 2020 but has regressed to 121.1 on average this season. With the talented running back duo of Jarek Broussard (337 yds., 2 TDs) and Alex Fontenot (186, 2) and quarterback Brendon Lewis (121), the potential is there.
Colorado also has allowed 22 sacks this season — the most in the Pac-12 and an average of 3.14 per game that ranks No. 114 overall. With less pressure and more time to operate, Lewis could improve upon his 54.8 percent completion rate and 6.3 yards per pass attempt, both of which are the worst in the conference by a wide margin.
When Oregon Has the Ball
Oregon may not have the explosive offense of the Chip Kelly era, but the Ducks rank second in the Pac-12 in scoring (33.9 ppg), fourth in total offense (425.3 ypg), and third in raw yards per play (6.25), all of which rank among the top 50 nationally. The Ducks are even better in key situations: they rank 34th with 6.40 yards per play filtered for garbage time against FBS opponents, as well as 28th in points per drive (2.77), 30th in EPA per play (0.169), and 17th in success rate (48.9 percent) in those situations.
Quarterback Anthony Brown has been far from perfect (and some Oregon fans let him know how they felt with loud boos and calls for freshman backup Ty Thompson when he's struggled), but Brown has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,490 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 7.8 yards per attempt and tossing only three interceptions. He also has 327 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Brown may not be Marcus Mariota, and he will likely need to keep improving to keep the Ducks in the Pac-12 driver's seat and College Football Playoff conversation, but at the very least, Colorado would love a quarterback with those types of numbers.
The lack of a go-to receiver hasn't helped. Six Ducks have caught 10 or more passes (10 have eight or more receptions), but none has 20. Running back Travis Dye leads leader with 19 catches, on which he has gained 189 yards — third on the team behind Johnny Johnson III (18 rec., 245 yds., TD) and Devon Williams (13, 195). Williams has come on of late with nine receptions and 147 yards combined over the last two games, and Mycah Pittman (10, 182) recorded half of his catches last week. As a result of the receiving corps' inconsistency, much of the offensive workload falls to Dye, especially since CJ Verdell (406 rushing yds., 7 total TDs) suffered a season-ending leg injury. Dye leads the Ducks with 562 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground (four of them coming last week) on 93 carries.
Colorado's offensive line will face its toughest test yet in Oregon All-American Kayvon Thibodeaux, who returned from an early-season injury, as well as a targeting ejection that cost him the first half of the Cal game, to post a 92.6 pass-rushing grade from PFF — second among FBS players with at least 10 pass-rush snaps. He has also been credited with 14 hurries, four hits, and five sacks. Not bad for a player who has been on the field for more than 20 snaps in only the last three games of the season.
The rest of the Oregon defense is talented, too, with Mykael Wright, Verone McKinley III, and DJ James leading the secondary, as well as linebacker Noah Sewell roaming sideline to sideline. Depth has taken a hit, though. Multiple linebackers are sidelined, including potentially Mase Funa, who exited last week with an apparent knee injury, and star safety Bennett Williams has been out since Oct. 2. Nevertheless, the Ducks should have little trouble keeping Colorado off the scoreboard. Expect a comfortable Oregon win in this week's tune-up as they prepare for a difficult November slate.
Prediction: Oregon 39, Colorado 16
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