Preview – Oregon

There hasn’t been a game in a generation in which Colorado has been a 33-point underdog at home.

Such is the plight, however, of the beat-up 2011 version of the Colorado Buffaloes.

Leading rusher Rodney Stewart? Injured. Will not play Saturday – and will be out for a few more weeks.

Leadig receiver Paul Richardson? Injured. Will not play Saturday – and will be out for a few more weeks.

Leading tackler Doug Rippy? Injured. Will not play Saturday – and is out for the season.

The Colorado injury list has reached 15 players, and that list does not even include the four healthy defensive players who remain suspended for undisclosed violations of team rules. No fewer than nine defensive backs will be inactive when the Buffs face one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.  

Under the best of circumstances, the rebuilding Buffs would have been a heavy underdog to the No. 9 Ducks.

These are not the best of circumstances.

“We just keep competing and keep fighting and that is one of the things that I talked to the team about,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree. ” ‘The other team is not going to feel sorry for you, so we’re not either. We are going to go out and compete. We are going to go out there and whoever is representing the University of Colorado on the field, do it to the best of your abilities. Play with great effort and we’ll see what happens.’ ”

Let’s see what happens …

Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.”

T – Talent

Two of Oregon’s top players, quarterback Darron Thomas and running back LaMichael James, have been injured over the past two weeks of play. James suffered a dislocated elbow against Cal two weeks ago, and did not play last weekend against Arizona State. Thomas hurt both knees against the Sun Devils, and though he insists he could have returned to play last Saturday, his status for the game against the Buffs remains uncertain.

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly likes to keep injury reports away from the press and the opposition (at best, Kelly is coy; at worst, Kelly is … well, you fill in the blank). No official reports as to the status of either player exists, so fans and the media are left to speculate.

James, who is averaging 170.4 yards rushing per game, told reporters Tuesday he was awaiting a special brace. He plans on making the trip to Boulder and dressing for the game, but doesn’t know yet if he’ll play. “I definitely could play,” James said, “It’s one of those things — if they need me to play.”

James’ replacement, Kenjon Barner, rushed for 171 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown against No. 18 Arizona State last weekend. Colorado has been surrendering 145 yards per game on the ground, is ranked 112th in the nation in third down conversion defense, and 117th in the nation in red zone scoring percentage defense.

Note to LaMichael James … they don’t need you to play.

Less likely to play is quarterback Darron Thomas, injured last Saturday against Arizona State. In his place, freshman Bryan Bennett stepped in, and stepped up. Trailing 24-21 against the ranked Sun Devils, Bennett was not phased, leading the Ducks to a 41-27 victory. “No one really knew what Brian can do and he came in the game when it was close, and it was difficult and he showed what he can do,” James said. “And I’m really proud of him.”

Chip Kelly has not committed to his starter for the Colorado game. “I think the offense is the same so it’s not like we run things different when Bryan is in there,” Kelly said. Reports are, though, that Bennett has been taking all of the snaps with the first team this week.

With or without James and Thomas, Oregon possesses a lethal offense. The Ducks are rushing for over 300 yards per game, are 5th in the nation in total offense and 3rd in the nation in scoring offense, posting nearly 49 points per game.

These numbers do not bode well for a defense which has given up 100 points over the past two weeks … and just lost its leading tackler, linebacker Douglas Rippy.

Asked what he can do to stop the Oregon onslaught, Jon Embree had few answers. “Practice. All we can do is practice,” said Embree. “From the assignments side, it was more technique. Sometimes we would get caught in a situation of just trying to do our job, instead of knowing how to do our job. We have to be better technique wise, and again, just turn it loose. I think sometimes you get to where you don’t want to make a mistake. You are never going to play a perfect game. You are going to make mistakes and you can still have success, so let’s do if full speed ahead instead of making mistakes going at half speed.”

With Oregon’s fast-paced offense, the Ducks’ defense often has to play most of the game. In fact, Oregon is ranked 120th nationally – dead last – in time of possession, at 24:42 per game.

Does this translate into poor defensive statistics?

Well, yes and no.

Oregon is ranked 91st in the nation in pass defense, but that largely has to do with opposing teams forced to pass to catch up. More to the point, Oregon is 44th in scoring defense, at just over 23 points per game.

The defense is led by a name familiar to most college football fans, cornerback Cliff Harris. After serving a one-game suspension for a myriad of offenses this past summer (recall that it was Harris who was caught driving 118 mph this past June in someone else’s rental car, not to mention driving with a suspended license. In the police video, when the officer who pulled him over asked about the smell of marijuana in the vehicle, Harris replied, “We smoked it all”. For all this, Harris was suspended for one game … Want to bet the four defensive backs at Colorado, who have been suspended indefinitely from the team for violating team rules – but not a single law – envy Harris’ punishment?), Harris made a key interception at the end of the first half against Arizona State. With the Sun Devils leading, 17-14, late in the first half, and driving for more points, Harris returned an interception 50 yards to set up a touchdown for the Ducks to give Oregon a halftime lead.

Quite simply, Oregon has playmakers to spare on both sides of the ball. Colorado’s few playmakers – running back Rodney Stewart, wide receiver Paul Richardson, and linebacker Doug Rippy – will all be in street clothes on Saturday.

And Colorado does not have playmakers to spare.

I – Intangibles

If LaMichael James plays on Saturday against Colorado, it will be for one reason, and one reason only … to keep James alive in the Heisman trophy race.

There is no logical reason to risk further injury to a healing star when the game will be little more than a glorifield scrimmage for the Ducks. Oregon has two huge road games coming up in the next three weeks, against Washington and Stanford, both ranked and undefeated in Pac-12 North play. Oregon will want to be at full strength against those two teams, which means logic dictates holding out James.

On the other hand, James rushed for over 200 yards in his last three games … and the Colorado defense would be easy pickings. James could get his 200 yards in short order, and pad his stats for the Heisman trophy voters.

Simply put, if LaMichael James is on the field against Colorado, it will have nothing to do with the Ducks’ needing him to play … it will be all about impressing voters.

The same is true, to a lesser extent, concerning quarterback Darron Thomas. The junior quarterback, who has thrown for 17 touchdowns and only three interceptions, might like to pad his stats sheet as well, but his injuries may preclude his involvment.

Any intangibles working in the Buffs’ favor?

Not really.

Even Oregon coach Chip Kelly was hard pressed to find something nice to say about the Buffs at the weekly Pac-12 press teleconference. Coaches always talk up the other team at these weekly press conferences, but here is all Kelly could find to say nice about Colorado:

“When you watch the tape, they play extremely hard,” Kelly said. “They’ve lost a ton of players through attrition and they’ve got a ton of injuries right now but they play hard from the beginning of the game to the end of the game.”

Got that, Buff fans? At least the Buffs play hard all the way to the end of the game! Wow!

Okay, maybe there is one thing the Buffs can use this weekend …

As Janis Joplin told us in “Me and Bobby McGee” – “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”.

Colorado is 1-6, and would have to win out just to qualify for a minor bowl. With three road games still to play, and the Buffs still saddled with a school record losing streak on the road … a six game winning streak ain’t happenin’.

So, if you are going to go down, why not go down swinging?

Colorado has run exactly one end around all season. The Buffs have yet to try a halfback pass, a Statue of Liberty play, or a pass back to the quarterback.

Why not put such plays into the playbook this weekend? Does it really matter whether the final is 63-14 or 70-14?

Give it a shot Buffs … there’s “nothing left to lose”.

P – Preparation / Schedule

Oregon has what one writer that sees the Colorado game as a bye week for the Ducks. George Schroeder of the Register-Guard wrote:

“Get well soon, (LaMichael James and Darron Thomas). We’ll see you next month.

“They’re not needed against Colorado. Not the next week, either, against Washington State. And while the primary goal here is to make sure both guys are healthy again soon, there’s a secondary — but also very important — consideration.


“That’s when the Ducks need Thomas’ left knee to be sound. It’s when James’ elbow needs to be pain-free, too, because the Ducks will need their full range of motion against Washington, and then especially against Stanford.

“Saturday against those Buffaloes in Boulder? Next weekend when the Cougars visit Autzen Stadium?

“Let Bryan Bennett have the football. Let him hand it off to Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Let Thomas and James watch from the sidelines. Let Oregon cruise to two victories, anyway.

“Not that anyone at the Casanova Center will admit this, but everyone already expected the backups would get plenty of playing time. This is the softest two weeks of the Ducks’ Pac-12 schedule. It’s a shame the quarterback and running back are banged up — but if it had to happen, the timing is perfect.”

For Colorado, the schedule makers were not so kind.

Not only do the Buffs take the road again next weekend – for the third time in four weeks – it will be against another ranked opponent, Arizona State.

And, oh yeah, the Sun Devils have a bye week this week, an extra week to lick their wounds from the Oregon loss, get healthy, and prepare to exact a pound of flesh from the wounded Buffs.

The Arizona State game is one of three this fall in which the Buffs’ opponent has a bye week to rest up for the 13 games in 13 weeks battered Buffs.

C’est la vie.

S – Statistics

– Colorado leads the all-time series with Oregon, 8-7, with the teams this weekend meeting for the first time since 2001.

– The two teams have played in some memorable games – In 1984, Oregon came from behind in the last few minutes, but the game is most remembered as the game in which Colorado tight end Ed Reinhardt almost died. A year later, it was the Buffs’ turn to pull out a last minute victory at home, with Mickey Pruitt making a game saving sack of Oregon quarterback Chris Miller.

– The Buffs are 2-1 against the Ducks in bowl games (which is a record which is unlikely to ever change). Colorado was victorious in the 1996 Cotton Bowl, a game most remembered for Colorado head coach Rick Neuheisel calling for a fake punt late in the game. A few years later, the teams would meet up again, in the 1998 Aloha Bowl, a game which turned out to be the last for Neuheisel as the Colorado head coach.  The final bowl game between the two teams was the 2002 Fiesta Bowl, with both teams snubbed by the BCS in favor of Nebraska for a shot at the national championship game.

– There were several other games played between the two teams prior to the time frame covered by CU at the Game. Here is a link to a great Oregon blog. (If you have a few minutes, take a look at “Autzen: What might have been” – a plan in 1960 to put have a “drive-in” in the endzones of the Oregon stadium!).

– Oregon has won 15 straight Pac-10/12 games, including the last seven played on the road;

– In two games in which he has started in place of LaMichael James, junior running back Kenjon Barner has had 48 carries for 318 yards and five touchdowns;

– Of Oregon’s 38 touchdown drives this season, half (19) have lasted 1:39 or less, and nine have taken under a minute of playing time;

– LaMichael James, with 4,129 yards, is only the second junior in Pac-10/12 history to surpass 4,000 yards as a junior (USC’s Charles White being the other). James has six career 200-yard games, including three in a row (the last Pac-10 player with three in a row was USC’s Marcus Allen, in 1981);

– Junior quarterback Darron Thomas has thrown for 50 touchdown passes in his career (5th all-time at Oregon). Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen has thrown for 28 touchdown passes (7th all-time at Colorado);

– Oregon ranks in the top ten nationally in six categories: net punting (2nd); scoring offense (3rd); sacks allowed (3rd); total offense (5th); rushing offense (5th); and pass efficiency (10th);

– Colorado ranks in the bottom ten nationally in seven categories: red zone scoring percentage, defense (117th); kickoff returns (116th); scoring defense (113th); pass efficiency defense (113th); rushing offense (113th); kickoff return yardage defense (113th); and third down conversion defense (112th).

2 Replies to “Preview – Oregon”

  1. Good work, as usual, Stuart. Minor correction – in the Preparation/Schedule section, you refer to ASU as the “Wildcats”. Way to provide bulletin board material – for two teams!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. Good catch, consider it corrected.

      (I guess I’m just too set in my ways … at least we used to have Wildcats in the Big 12. If I start calling a Pac-12 team the “Jayhawks”, it may be time to retire!).

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