The nation's second-highest scoring team puts its perfect record on the line once more, as the second-ranked Oregon Ducks play host to the Colorado Buffaloes this Saturday in Pac-12 Conference action.
Colorado has fallen on hard times these last few years, and the team's current 1-6 record is certainly indicative of that fact. The Buffaloes' lone win of the season was a 35-34 decision at Washington State on Sept. 22, and the team has lost three in a row since. The most recent outing at USC last Saturday resulted in an embarrassing 50-6 setback, and with tough bouts against Oregon, Stanford, Arizona, Washington and Utah left, securing more than that one, lonely victory won't be easy.
Oregon is at the other end of the success spectrum, having won each of its first seven games and scoring no fewer than 41 points in any one of them. The Ducks, who despite posting one dominating win after another, actually dropped a spot in the most recent BCS rankings, from No. 3 to No. 4, so they are expected to play with a renewed sense of purpose as they stare down the toughest part of their schedule. Following this contest, Oregon will take on USC, California, Stanford and Oregon State, and if things go according to plan, perhaps a rematch with the Trojans in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The all-time series between these two teams is tied at 8-8, and Oregon has won the last two meetings, including a 45-2 triumph at Colorado last season.
Colorado, which has now lost 19 straight road games against ranked opponents, is clearly the worst team in the Pac-12, ranking last in both scoring offense (18.7 ppg) and scoring defense (42.6 ppg). Even with all their woes, the Buffs have gotten decent quarterback play at times from Jordan Webb, as he has completed more than half of his passes for 1,351 yards, eight TDs and seven interceptions. That is of course when he is standing upright, as he has been sacked a whopping 31 times. CU's top running back is Christian Powell, but he has amassed just 350 yards, and the team as a whole has just eight rushing TDs to its credit. Nelson Spruce paces the receivers with 28 catches for 307 yards and a pair of scores.
Last week against USC, Webb had a particularly rough go of it, throwing three interceptions and suffering five sacks. Powell tallied 56 yards on 14 carries, but the Colorado offense as a whole managed just 103 yards on the ground while turning the ball over a staggering six times. All that despite easily winning the time of possession battle (37:10-22:50).
Defensively, the Buffaloes have had all kinds of trouble against the pass this year, yielding an average of 316.6 ypg, which has them ranked 117th in the nation heading into the week. As a result, foes are basically scoring at will and that was certainly the case last week at USC, as the Trojans scored just 50 seconds into the game on a 55-yard pass play and never looked back en route to the easy win. When the dust had settled, the Buffs gave up 458 total yards, including 340 through the air, and the Trojans scored all seven of their TDs via the pass.
The CU defense has come up with only three interceptions, and only nine takeaways this entire season. DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe has logged six of the team's 14 sacks.
In the face of mounting pressure to turn things around, Colorado head coach Jon Embree is trying to instill a sense of pride in his embattled squad.
"We've got to see what's wrong and get it fixed. We're young, but we're going to have to grow up and compete. The one thing you can't say about this team is, 'They don't compete.'"
As mentioned in the opening, Oregon is one of the top offensive teams in the nation, sporting a scoring average of 51.0 ppg, which to give some perspective -- Arizona is the second-highest scoring team in the league at 39.1 ppg. Freshman QB Marcus Mariota has been every bit as good as advertised coming into the season as he has hit the mark on 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,347 yards, 16 TDs and only five interceptions. A total of 17 different players have caught at least one pass this year, with De'Anthony Thomas leading the way with 23 grabs for 209 yards and three scores. Colt Lyerla has made the most of his 12 catches by finding the end zone four times. As for the Ducks' rushing attack, it is spearheaded by Kenjon Barner with his 870 yards and 12 TDs. The Ducks are far-and-away the top rushing team in the Pac-12, and fourth-best nationally (317.1 ypg).
While not quite up to par on the defensive side of the ball, Oregon isn't terrible there, but opponents have garnered some success, particularly in the passing game where they average 230.6 ypg and have scored 10 of their 16 offensive TDs. Oregon is the league's best team when it comes to red-zone defense, permitting just 15 scores (nine TDs, six FGs) in 28 opportunities (.536).
DE Dion Jordan and DT Taylor Hart each have five sacks, the team checking in with 22 QB takedowns to this point, while four guys have multiple picks, led by CB Avery Patterson with three.
The Ducks were last in action on Thursday, Oct. 18 at Arizona State, and extinguished the Sun Devils in a 43-21 final. Oregon was down 7-0 early, but scored the next 43 points, all in the first half, to take control of the game. ASU scored a pair of TDs in the fourth quarter, but by then the Ducks had piled up 406 yards on the ground as both Barner and Mariota went over the 100- yard mark, with 143 and 135, respectively. Barner scored three TDs, Mariota one, as the team averaged nearly seven yards per carry. Mariota, who also caught a TD pass in the onslaught, went 9-of-12 passing for just 46 yards with a score.
Meanwhile, the Oregon defense was doing quite a job in holding a team that scores just shy of 40 ppg on average well below that number, allowing 408 total yards while coming up with four interceptions and five sacks, two of which were credited to Jordan.
Oregon head coach Chip Kelly liked what he saw from his team once they fell behind at Arizona State last time out.
"Obviously, the interceptions with our defense gave other opportunities to get on the short field. We feed off of each other. Obviously, weathering a little bit of storm is not the way you want to start and we allowed their crowd to get into it a little bit. I think our kids just didn't blink and that's what I love about this group."