10:00 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Oregon -20.5, Over/Under: 57.5
What promises to be another chaotic in the Pac-12 kicks off a night earlier, as the No. 13 Oregon Ducks play host to the Colorado Buffaloes, from Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. It’s the beginning of a new era for Colorado (3-2, 1-1 n Pac-12), who have entered their first season under the watchful eye of Mel Tucker, who will be looking to bring some sorely-needed consistency to a program that was once upon a time a powerhouse. Since Rick Neuheisel left Boulder back in 1999, the Buffaloes have been largely mediocre, authoring just six winning seasons, with only one of them coming in the last thirteen years. Tucker knows plenty about success, with a track record stretching out to not only some of the top schools in the country, but a number of stops in the NFL as well. Most recently, the 47-Year Old served as Georgia’s Defensive Coordinator from 2016 to 2018, in which he helped steer them to an appearance in the National Championship Game. However, five games into his first season at Colorado, and it’s become apparent that while there is a good deal of talent on hand, there is still plenty of work to do to get this program where they want to be. Ironically, the majority of that work needs to be done on Defense, which is of course Tucker’s forte, for thus far, the Buffaloes have relinquished 31.6 Points per Game (104th Overall) on 471.6 Total yards, including 313.6 Yards against the Pass, and another 158.0 Yards versus the Run. They’ve allowed thirty or more points and over 400 Total Yards in every game this season, with their only saving grace being their ability to force Turnovers; Tucker’s charges lead the Pac-12 with Twelve Takeaways, Six Interceptions and Fumble Recoveries apiece. SMU Transfer, Mikial Onu (27 TKL, 2 FF, 4 INT, 2 PD) has been playmaking machine in the Secondary, collecting Four Interceptions and forcing a pair of Fumbles. The question though, is what happens when that proverbial well runs dry? Last weekend’s thrilling 30-35 defeat at home to Arizona is a good example. In an affair that featured nine lead changes, 983 Total Yards of Offense, some huge plays in the Passing Game, it all came down to a pair of crucial defensive stops, that were made not by the hosts, but the visitors. The Wildcats stopped the Buffaloes on consecutive drives, one at the Goal Line, and the other at Midfield, securing their third consecutive victory over the league brethren. For Colorado, Fifth-Year Senior Quarterback, Steven Montez (67.0%, 1,463 YDS, 8.3 Y/A, 10 TD, 2 INT) played well, completing 28-of-42 Passes for 299 Yards and a Touchdown, while one of his targets, K.D. Nixon (18 REC, 302 YDS, 16.8 Y/R, 1 TD), launched a 38-Yard Strike to Dimitri Stanley (15 REC, 185 YDS, 12.3 Y/R, 2 TD) late in a wild Second Quarter to take a 13-10 lead. Senior Receiver, Tony Brown (29 REC, 442 YDS, 15.2 Y/R, 4 TD), led the team with Ten Receptions for 141 Yards, while the Offense’s primary weapon, Laviska Shenault (17 REC, 226 YDS, 13.3 Y/R, 2 TD) missed the contest with a core muscle injury. Injuries were a big story for the home side, who were already without Shenault along with Cornerback, Chris Miller (10 TKL, 1 INT, 1 PD), and Defensive End, Mustafa Johnson (12 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 3.0 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD, ), with knee and ankle injuries respectively, lost the aforementioned Onu and Dixon, as well as Nose Tackle, Jalen Sami (8 TKL), at various points of the night. Tonight’s trip to Eugene marks the beginning of a tough stretch for the Buffaloes, who after enjoying a home-heavy run to start the season, will be on the road for three of the next four games, with trips to Washington State and UCLA looming, while a home date with Southern California is thrown in there for good measure. Oregon hasn’t been very kind to them since Colorado joined the Pac-12 back in 2011, taking them to the woodshed in their first five meetings by an average margin of 38.2 Points per Game, though their last meeting at Autzen Stadium was a different matter altogether, with the Buffs escaping with 41-38 victory back in 2016.
Meanwhile, the search for the Pac-12’s leader continues after the denizens of the conference continue to feed on each other for another week, with Oregon (4-1, 2-0 in Pac-12) barely surviving their meeting with California. Indeed, the narrow 17-7 victory was the first time this season in which the Ducks found themselves trailing at Halftime, as the Bears’ staunch Defense proved to be a puzzle that took the better part of the night to piece together. It was the second straight workman-like showing for Mario Cristobal’s charges, who followed a 21-6 win over Stanford with this slugfest against another Northern California outfit, for the third time this season, Oregon was held below 6.0 Yards per Play, grinding out 404 Total yards of Offense on Twenty-Six First Downs, including 190 Rushing Yards on Forty Carries, overcoming Three Turnovers. Behind one of the most experienced Offensive Lines in the country, the hosts simply put their collective heads down and pushed forward, with a host of players making plays, including Tailbacks, Travis Dye (45 CAR, 234 YDS, 5.2 Y/C, 0 TD), C.J. Verdell (64 CAR, 277 YDS, 4.3 Y/C, 2 TD), and Cyrus Habibi-Likio (21 CAR, 77 YDS, 3.7 Y/C, 2 TD), along with Quarterback, Justin Herbert (71.6%, 1,341 YDS, 8.3 Y/A, 15 TD, 1 INT). Herbert, whose return to school was a mild surprise to NFL Scouts, completed 20-of-33 Passes for 214 Yards, a Touchdown and an Interception, while rushing for Thirty-Two Yards on Eight Carries. However, it was the Defense that once again proved to be the difference-maker, relegating the visiting side to a meager 256 Total Yards, Twelve First Downs, and Sixty-Six Rushing Yards on Thirty-Carries, while forcing a pair of Turnovers. Senior Linebacker, Troy Dye (29 TKL, 5.0 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 INT, 1 PD), Travis’ older brother, came up with a huge Interception in the Fourth Quarter, which set up his team’s final score which sealed the outcome. Indeed, Cristobal’s Defense continued to impress once again, even if their streak of three games without allowing a Touchdown, their longest since 1939, came to an end. With the aforementioned Herbert and the vaunted Offensive Line in play, most pundits expected Oregon’s Offense to carry them this season, but that really hasn’t been the case. Through five games, the Ducks are averaging 34.2 Points per Game (36th Overall) on 447.8 Total Yards, including 286.0 Yards through the air and another 161.8 Yards on the ground, though those figures are a bit misleading, given the school’s schedule; take away lopsided victories over the likes of Nevada (77-6) and Montana (35-3), and this unit is only putting up 19.7 Points per Game on 352.0 Total Yards, including 238.3 passing and 113.7 rushing. This is where the Defense has become a major factor in their success, limiting the opposition to a scant 9.8 Points per Game (6th Overall) on 261.4 Total Yards, including 166.0 Yards against the Pass, and another 95.4 Yards versus the Run on a mere 2.4 Yards per Carry. Like their counterpart tonight, they’ve feasted on Turnovers (10), but unlike the Buffaloes, the big plays don’t stop there, for they’ve accumulated 39.5 Tackles for Loss and 18.5 Sacks. The aforementioned Dye has been stellar, while Sophomore Safety, Jevon Holland (24 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 3 INT, 2 PD) leads the team with Three Interceptions, with a Defensive Front consisting of Austin Faoliu (14 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 SK), Mase Funa (10 TKL, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 SK), and Kayvon Thibodeaux (9 TKL 3.5 TFL, 2.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 PD), and Drayton Carlberg (8 TKL, 2.0 TFL, 2.0 SK, 1 FR), wrecking havoc at the Line of Scrimmage. Cristobal must be careful not to allow his troops to look ahead to what figure to be crucial meetings with the likes of No. 15 Washington and Washington State, the former which will be contested in Seattle. Oregon is currently the only unbeaten North Division resident, and with a 1.5-Game Lead over the Huskies in league play, they can potentially book a trip to the Pac-12 Championship if they manage to play their cards right.