Eugene, OR (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-ranked Oregon Ducks take the field at Autzen Stadium on Saturday afternoon for a Pac-12 Conference clash with the Colorado Buffaloes.
This is the last road game of the season for Colorado, which is playing for nothing but pride at this point. A 38-20 loss at Arizona on Nov. 8 was the Buffaloes' most recent decision. The loss was the sixth straight for Colorado, which is just 2-8 overall and without a win in seven tries against Pac-12 competition.
That streak isn't likely to end this weekend. Even with an extra week of preparation, the Buffs are running into an Oregon squad that has already secured the Pac-12 North Division title. The Ducks kept their foot on the gas last time out against Utah, rolling to a 51-27 victory. The win was the fifth straight for Oregon since its one and only stumble of the campaign, a 31-24 home loss against Arizona.
A glance at the all-time series record between these teams might indicate a competitive rivalry, as Oregon has a 10-8 mark versus Colorado. However, the Ducks have won four straight and six of the last eight with the Buffs, including routs of 45-2, 70-14 and 57-16 in the last three seasons, respectively.
Sefo Liufau had a difficult game against Arizona, as his four turnovers (two interceptions, two fumbles) led to 28 points for the Wildcats. He also hurt his head, which could have something to do with him being listed as questionable for this game, although the official reason has not been disclosed.
"He's a little bit woozy or dizzy right now. I don't know exactly the state of it, if it's a concussion right now, but it's something to do with his head," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said of Liufau's status after the Arizona game. He's going to be OK but I don't know how serious it is at this point."
Without Liufau, Colorado is losing a quarterback who has thrown for 2,842 yards and 26 touchdowns on 65.8 percent passing this season. Backup Jordan Gehrke is the likely replacement. He failed to complete any of his five pass attempts against Arizona, and has completed only 11-of-26 passes for 106 yards in three games this season.
The Buffaloes' injury woes don't end with Liufau, as leading rusher Michael Adkins II (398 yards, three TDs) is listed as questionable as well with a knee injury. Luckily, Phillip Lindsay (338 yards), Tony Jones (337 yards, three TDs) and Christian Powell all have plenty of experience.
There is no question that Gehrke will be trying as much as possible to get the ball to Nelson Spruce. Spruce leads the country in receptions with 99, which he has turned into 1,091 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had 89 yards on nine catches against Arizona. Shay Fields (45 receptions, 411 yards, two TDs) stepped out of Spruce's shadow against the Wildcats and wound up with 94 yards and a score on five receptions.
A weakened offense will be no help for a Colorado team that struggles on defense. While the Buffaloes have been competitive on offense, ranking seventh in the Pac-12 in total yards (461.1 ypg), they are next-to-last in scoring defense (38.6 ppg) and ninth in total defense (449.6 ypg).
Making matters worse this weekend is the fact that Colorado must attempt to find a solution against the most powerful offensive attack in the Pac-12. In fact that is understating the challenge, as Oregon ranks third in the country in scoring (46 ppg) and fifth in total offense (531.2 ypg).
Marcus Mariota will take the next step on his Heisman tour in this one. Oregon's signal caller has been one of the most consistent players in the country this season, and he has compiled 2,780 yards and 29 touchdowns on 67.1 percent passing, while being intercepted only twice. As if that wasn't enough, Mariota also has made a tremendous impact with his legs, rushing for 524 yards and eight touchdowns on 89 carries. He recorded his first 100-yard game of the season against Utah, escaping for 114 yards and a touchdown on 18 total attempts.
While Mariota gets most of the praise, and deservedly so, there are other talented players on the offensive side of the ball for Oregon. Byron Marshall has been tremendous as a receiver and a rusher out of the backfield. He leads the team in receptions (46) and receiving yards (595) and has 307 yards on the ground as well as five total touchdowns. Royce Freeman is a more traditional running back, with 945 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has had at least 98 yards in each of the last five games, including a 99-yard performance against the Utes.
The receiving corps took a hit when tight end Pharaoh Brown (25 receptions, 420 yards, six TDs) was ruled out for the remainder of the season, but with contributors like Devon Allen (31 receptions, 586 yards, six TDs) and Dwayne Stanford (28 receptions, 431 yards, six TDs), the Ducks are still packed with explosive weapons.
An injury on defense may change things for Oregon this weekend, as cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is listed as questionable with a bad toe. However, with an extra week off after facing Utah, Ekpre-Olomu is mentally ready to go.
"It helps a lot but at the same time you need to keep that football mind-set," Ekpre-Olomu said after practice on Monday. "It definitely helps you health- wise but we have to stay focused."
While losing Ekpre-Olomu for this game may not be the end of the world, the Ducks will need him going forward, especially considering they rank next-to- last in the Pac-12 in total defense (456.7 ypg).