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CU v. Oregon: “T.I.P.S.” for the Buffs’ trip to the Coliseum to face the Ducks

Note … None of this applies now, but I did put in a good deal of time on it, so I’ll post it anyway. See if you agree with my assessment … 

Once upon a time, Colorado was slated to play Oregon in September.

The game was supposed to be played in Eugene on September 26th, the Pac-12 opener for both teams. Before taking the field against one another, the two teams were slated to take on top ten teams in non-conference play (CU at Texas A&M; Oregon v. Ohio State).

That was so six months ago.

In the first restructuring of the Pac-12 schedule, which came at the end of July, the Buffs and Ducks were again supposed to meet to open Pac-12 play. In the new-and-improved ten-game, conference-only schedule, the teams were against set to meet in Eugene.

Then, when the schedule was reduced to a seven-game schedule, the Buffs v. Ducks went by the boards … until now.

The powers that be have decreed that the Buffs and Ducks will actually play this season, but not in Eugene, as originally scheduled, and not in Boulder, the home of the team with the better record, but in Los Angeles, the home of the USC Trojans.

The logic behind the move was that, should either of the title teams – USC and Washington – be unable to compete, that a substitute would be on hand to give the Pac-12 a championship game. If the Huskies back out at the last minute, Oregon would be asked to step in as a substitute, leaving the Buffs … to watch?

So, the 4-1 Buffs, the only team in the Pac-12 other than USC with at least four wins, will pack their bags for Los Angeles. Meanwhile, 2-4 Oregon State this weekend will get its fifth home game of the season.

Sigh … welcome to the Pac-12 …

This Week’s “T.I.P.S” for Colorado v. Oregon, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., MT, FS1

T – Talent 

It was all out there for the Ducks.

Oregon was the prohibitive favorite to win the Pac-12 this season. In the preseason media poll, Oregon received 35 of 38 first place votes to win the Pac-12 North, and 21 of the 38 votes to win the Pac-12 championship.

The Ducks were ranked No. 9 in the preseason AP poll, and had a direct path to the College Football Playoff. No USC on the schedule, with an undefeated season all but guaranteeing a playoff berth.

But something happened on the way to the coronation.

In the shortened season, the Ducks dominated Stanford (which was playing without its quarterback, Davis Mills, sidelined by what turned out to be a false positive test), out-scored Washington State, 43-29, then just got by – at home – a UCLA team manned by its backup quarterback.

And those were the good results.

In “The Game Formerly Known as the Civil War”, the Ducks fell on the road to Oregon State, 41-38, to fall out of the College Football Playoff chase. Then Oregon followed that up with a 21-17 loss to winless Cal.

What happened?

There were some losses in personnel as there were opt-outs by a few stars, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that Oregon has more four-star backups than CU has four-star starters.

It starts with the quarterback, Tyler Shough. The sophomore hasn’t been bad (63.6 completion percentage; 11 touchdowns to only four interceptions), and has the ability to run the ball (256 yards rushing in four games) but he hasn’t been the dominant performer Duck fans have come to expect.

But there are weapons … many, many weapons … at Shough’s disposal. Oregon has four wide receivers who have over 200 yards receiving (Colorado has one). Pick your poison: Devon Williams, Jaylon Redd, Travis Dye and Johnny Johnson III have between them almost 900 yards in catches … and seven touchdowns.

On the ground, Travis Dye, CJ Verdell and quarterback Shough have all posted between 250 and 350 yards rushing … with six more touchdowns (though near the goal line look for Cyrus Habibi-Likio, who has all of ten carries this season … with four scores).

Overall, the Ducks are 21st nationally in total offense (467.0 yds/game) and 27th in scoring offense (34.2 points/game). Not fast break Oregon great, but not bad.

So why is Oregon 3-2?

Well, the defense has not lived up to its billing.

The defense had eight starters returning from a unit which last season was 22nd in the nation in total defense and 9th in the nation in scoring defense. In Athlon’s Pac-12 preseason unit rankings, the Ducks were considered No. 1 along the defensive line and secondary, and No. 2 in linebackers (CU’s rankings: Defensive line: 8th; linebackers: 9th; secondary: 11th).

Instead of dominating, the Ducks are 75th in total defense, giving up almost 420 yards/game. Oregon is also outside the top 50 nationally in scoring defense, giving up 28.0 points/game.

The goal against Oregon has always been to try and out-score the Ducks, as few teams matchup well against Oregon’s offense.

The thing is … in 2020 … out-scoring Oregon has become an option …

I – Intangibles 

Does anyone really want to play this game?

Oregon spent last week thinking they would get a shot at Washington. With a victory – and Oregon was favored at home against the Huskies – the Ducks would win the Pac-12 North, and advance to the title game.

Instead, the Huskies canceled, giving Washington the North Division by default (Washington is 4-1; Oregon 3-2). The game left Oregon at home last weekend, with no opponent and only an outside shot at a title game (if the Huskies were unable to play two weeks in a row).

Colorado, meanwhile, also spent last week thinking they would get a shot at a title. The Buffs needed a win over Utah to stay undefeated, and, at least on paper, have an argument for a title game berth, or an outright South division title if the Buffs beat the Utes, and USC lost to UCLA.

Instead, the Buffs lost their best player and the game, giving USC the South division by default. The fact that the Trojans went on to post yet another last minute victory, this time at the expense of the Bruins, was of little consolation to the Buff Nation.

Now, the two bridesmaids are expected to head down to Los Angeles (you know, the place where the LA Bowl has been canceled, and the Rose Bowl is in jeopardy), to play second fiddle to the USC/Washington title game, which is scheduled to be played the night before.

Oregon may still be holding out hope for a title game, despite losing their last two games, while the Buffs – presumably – are anxious to get the bad taste of the Utah game out of their mouths. Focus should not be as much as an issue for the Buffs as it might be for the Ducks.

Slight advantage … CU.

… And then there is this …

On Sunday, Auburn fired its head coach, Gus Malzahn, despite the fact that Malzahn won two-thirds of his games (68-34), went to three New Year’s Six bowls, and is owed $21.7 for his buyout (50% due within 30 days, so Merry Christmas, Gus!).

The relevance here is that Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal has been tied – by multiple sources – to the replacement search. Cristobal went to school at Miami, spent four years under Nick Saban (2013-17), and is well known and well liked in SEC country. Even if the rumors amount to nothing more than just a (lucrative) contract extension for Cristobal, talk of Oregon’s head coach possible defection to the SEC still has to be a distraction for the coaching staff and the players.

P – Preparation / Schedule 

Remember the last time a coaching staff was asked to try and prepare for a regular season game and for Signing Day at the same time?

No? Well, that’s because it’s never happened before.

Now, it is true that since the main Signing Day was moved from the first Wednesday in February to the third Wednesday in December, there have been occasions when teams have had to prepare for an early bowl game while finalizing a Recruiting Class … But a regular season game?

Hasn’t happened.

Well, Signing Day is this Wednesday, December 16th. It’s a big deal in Boulder, as it’s Karl Dorrell’s first Class, but it’s an even bigger deal in Eugene, where the Ducks are looking to sign their highest-ranked Class ever (Oregon is currently ranked 3rd in the nation by Rivals, behind only Alabama and Ohio State).

The Buffs are signing a relatively small Class (19 currently committed), and word is that most, if not all, of the commitments are solid. Which means there will be – relatively – little drama in the Champions Center, at least compared to what is going on in the gilded halls of Nike University.

A bit of a distraction for the Ducks as they prepare for the Buffs?

We can only hope.

— Meanwhile, the Ducks do have the advantage of not having to play last weekend. While CU was taking on rival Utah, the Ducks were sitting at home, watching games on television.

The Oregon coaching staff, reading the tea leaves, could probably foresee that a matchup against Colorado was all but inevitable. If both USC and CU won, the Trojans would get to the title game. Same if both lost. The only scenario which would put CU in the championship game against Washington would be if the Buffs won and the Trojans lost.

So, since at least Saturday afternoon … and probably since last Thursday when the Washington/Oregon game was canceled, the Oregon coaching staff has been preparing to take on the Buffs.

Significant advantage … Oregon.

— But …

Washington was not given a deadline by the Pac-12 to cancel its championship game against USC. Theoretically, Washington could cancel on Thursday, giving Oregon one day to prepare to play on Friday night for the Pac-12 title.

This being the case, until or unless Washington says it is definitely playing Friday night, it would make sense for the Oregon coaches to also install a game plan for the potential game against USC. After all, the game against Colorado means little to the Ducks either way, while a chance at USC could bring Oregon back-to-back Pac-12 championships and a Fiesta Bowl berth.

As with Signing Day and the Auburn rumors, the lack of clarity as to who the Ducks will be playing this weekend will, at the very least, muddy the waters of Oregon’s preparations to play Colorado.

S – Statistics

— CU was 14th in the nation in average time of possession heading into last week’s game against Utah, holding the ball for an average of 33:39 per game. Against the Utes, the Buffs held the ball for 23:49 … and lost, 38-21.

The Buffs have fallen to 29th in average time of possession (31:41), which is still considerably better than Oregon’s 27:03 (116th in the nation).

Long story short … keep the ball away from the Oregon offense, and you have a shot at beating the Ducks;

— Towards that end … Oregon is 15th in the nation in converting on third down, picking up first downs almost 50% of the time (49.1%). The Buff defense, meanwhile, is 18th in the nation in third down conversion defense, giving up third downs only about a third of the time (33.8%). This is a spot where Nate Landman will be sorely missed. Landman leads the team in third down stops (with 13) … next highest on the list is Carson Wells, with eight;

— More from the Incredibly Obvious Department .. turnovers are important. The Buffs had been in the plus category for the season until the three turnover game against Utah brought CU back to even for the year. Meanwhile, the Ducks have been turnover-prone so far this year, surrendering the ball 11 times (seven fumbles; four interceptions), with a -1.4 turnover ratio (122nd nationally)

 

Prediction … Colorado has gone 1-6 against Oregon since joining the Pac-12. In 2016, the Buffs had a defensive backfield with four future NFL draft picks.

That’s not a coincidence.

Most years, the only way to stay with Oregon is to try and limit explosion plays by keeping up with their talented skill position players, and out-score the Ducks by having a solid offense which could keep the ball away from the Oregon offense and score when opportunities presented themselves.

In 2020, the bar has not been set quite as high.

The Oregon offense, on paper, can be very potent … but hasn’t displayed that potency consistently this fall.

The Oregon defense, on paper, is the best in the Pac-12 … but has been vulnerable to offenses which can dominate possession time and run the ball consistently.

Which gives Colorado a chance.

The Buffs built a 4-0 record by dominating time of possession, and running the ball effectively. Neither worked for the Buffs in their loss to the Utes.

Can the Buffs return to playing smash-mouth football … and be successful? Oregon State’s Jamar Jefferson went for 226 yards on 29 carries, with two touchdowns, in the Beavers’ 41-38 win. CU’s Jarek Broussard will need to have a similar game for the Buffs to have a chance.

If Nate Landman was leading the defense for the Buffs, keeping six-yard runs from becoming 60-yard runs, I might have picked an upset here.

I hope the Buffs will play with the chip on their shoulders that they displayed several weeks ago, but I’m afraid that some of the air may have come out of their 2020 balloon.

Oregon 31, Colorado 20 … 

—–

2 Replies to ““T.I.P.S” for CU v. Oregon”

  1. Nice article, good info and in depth analysis.
    The Buffs can only work on what went wrong against Utah (a lot) and build on what they want to do as a team (identity/strengths) at this point. At least they get to practice and who knows what happens beyond today (2020 mantra)
    Btw that was a tough game to watch, I was pretty fired up and felt bad for the Buffs and BuffNation, it would have been nice, but if someone offered me 4-1 after 5 – I would have taken it…

    I feel for Gus Malzahn but I guess that is life in the SEC…

    Fingers crossed, look forward to signing day and hopefull a game this weekend.
    Thanks for your work !

  2. Usually I’m bullish even in face of long odds but this match up could have been a tough one. Losing Landman, big letdown from last game, injuries, and a trend that someone else pointed out: Buffs are not improving. In particular, Noyer and also Chev’s play calling. Still happy about this season which was a surprise but the trend line has been down. If the Buffs got back to playing the ball in the first two games, maybe a close loss. But more probable a 2-3 score deficit. Maybe best to regroup, heal up, step back and break some of the recent trends, and end the season on a good note in a bowl game.

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