Ducks set to take flight in Pac-12 clash with Buffs

Boulder, CO ( - The second-ranked Oregon Ducks face their first Pac-12 Conference road test of the season on Saturday, as they pay a visit to the Colorado Buffaloes.

Not only has Oregon not skipped a beat under new head coach Mark Helfrich in 2013, but it appears to be playing better than ever, starting the season 4-0 with each of its victories coming by at least 39 points. The Ducks hosted California last week in the league opener and dismantled the Golden Bears in a 55-16 final.

After winning its first two games over rival Colorado State (41-27) and Central Arkansas (38-24), Colorado had a rare two-week break before opening up Pac-12 play last week against Oregon State in Corvallis. The Buffs were underwhelming in their first loss of the season, falling to the Beavers by a final score of 44-17.

Oregon holds a slim 9-8 lead over Colorado in the all-time series, but beat the Buffs in 2011 and 2012 by a combined score of 115-16.

Oregon's high-octane offense has not stopped to take a breath through four games, annihilating the opposition to the tune of 59.8 ppg (second in the FBS) and 599.2 ypg (third).

Marcus Mariota has been every bit as good as advertised this season, both as a passer (1,003 yards, nine TDs) and as a rusher (295 yards, five TDs), and he has played mistake-free football with zero interceptions. Despite his fast start, Mariota can stand to improve his completion percentage, which stands at a sub par .561.

Of the team's nearly 333 rushing yards per game, the majority come from De'Anthony Thomas, who has 338 yards and six scores. Thomas had to bow out of last week's game with an ankle injury and is listed as questionable for this contest, but backups Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner stepped up against Cal with 224 yards and three touchdowns between them.

"That was great to see that we have a dependable backup in (Marshall)," Mariota said. "He did a really great job. (Tyner) did the same thing and I think with each game and practice you really see Thomas grow and he is really going to be a special player."

Josh Huff is the team's leading receiver with 16 receptions for 342 yards and two touchdowns. Bralon Addison (187 yards), Johnny Mundt (149 yards) and Daryle Hawkins (117 yards) also have two touchdowns, while Addison is an outstanding punt returner too, taking back six kicks for 219 yards and two scores.

Outstanding offensive play has become customary at Oregon, but few envisioned the squad would have one of the nation's top defenses, the unit being tied for fourth in the nation in yielding just 10.8 ppg. Helfrich was especially impressed with his team's effort against Cal, when the unit forced five turnovers.

"Defense was awesome," Helfrich said. "Can't say enough about our effort...overall outstanding effort by our defense."

Derrick Malone has a team-high 35 tackles, while Tony Washington has 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (21 tackles, INT) is one of the nation's top shutdown corners.

Overall, Colorado's offense has been impressive, scoring 32.0 ppg, but it is coming off a dud in its Pac-12 opener, amassing just 300 total yards in a loss to Oregon State. Head coach Mike MacIntyre was disappointed in his team's inability to move the ball.

"That was all part of it," MacIntyre said. "We turned the ball over and we had some holding penalties and that type of thing. We should move the ball better and we will."

Connor Wood has taken every snap for the Buffs this season, completing 60.3 percent of his passes for 887 yards with eight touchdowns paired with four interceptions.

Wood is fortunate to have one of the Pac-12's most talent receivers on his side, as Paul Richardson has 26 receptions for 487 yards with five touchdowns. His 18.7 yards per catch is fourth-best in the nation among receivers with at least 20 receptions.

The CU rushing attack has been lackluster at best, with the team averaging just over 111 ypg on the ground, but it may have found a solution to that issues with the emergence of Michael Atkins II, who racked up 98 yards on 14 carries in his first career appearance against Oregon State.

"He's good and he's fast," MacIntyre said of his freshman tailback. "He'll play a lot for us."

Defensively, the Buffs have allowed just one fewer point than it has scored through three games (31.7 ppg).

Addison Gillam has 33 tackles to lead the unit to go along with 3.0 TFL and a sack.