Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, October 3, 2013

2013 Oregon Football Preview

I feel so much better about 2013 knowing that the schedule is back up to 12 games.  While you can never assume anything with this program, just seeing the name 'Charleston Southern' on the schedule opens the door to three, four, even five wins on the year.  A bowl game is still a fantasy, but a few more victories would be concrete evidence of improvement and progression, which is all I was asking for at the season's onset.

Of course, we can't get ahead of ourselves.  While waiting for the Buccaneers to arrive on October 19th, the Buffs will have to slog through two seemingly unwinnable games - home against #2 Oregon this weekend and at #22 Arizona St on 10/12.  This could be a very rough stretch for the team, and watching how they cope and compete over the next two weeks may end up telling us even more than potential wins over ChaSo and Cal would.

Kickoff against the Oregon Ducks from beautiful Folsom Field is scheduled for 4pm MT.  Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks (or - 'The Buffs Channel'), with Mark Johnson and the radio call coming on 850 KOA.

You can find previews from previous iterations of this series here and here.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met -

As if there was ever any doubt, the Ducks toyed with the stumbling Buffs last year, barely hitting second gear on their way to a 70-14 thrashing of Jon Embree's wayward charges.

The Ducks calmly put up 56 unanswered points prior to halftime on 311 yards, not once being forced to sustain a drive for more than three minutes.  Overall, Oregon stars Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas needed only 19 combined touches to notch 327 total yards and four scores.  It was a master class in playing offense against a paper opponent.
You can almost see De'Anthony Thomas yawning on his way to the endzone.
After halftime, the third- and fourth-string Ducks had their time, and the Buffs actually did a good job holding them on equal footing.  CU even found the endzone twice via power back Christian Powell (who notched 127 rushing yards in defeat), giving those in Black and Gold who made the trip something to cheer about.  Success in a vacuum, however, since the game had long since been decided.

The gap between the league's best and our beloved Buffs is never more evident then when we play Oregon.  When CU has played Stanford and USC over the last two years, it has at least looked like those two have had to put some effort into de-pantsing Colorado.  Against the Ducks, it seems as if they're sleep-walking to ridiculous margins of victory.  If the Buffs are ever going to matter in the Pac-12, they have to find a way to make the Ducks sweat, even for just a minute.  Till then, games like 70-14 are more glorified scrimmages than anything else.

The Ducks in 2013 - 

The #2 Ducks enter week six on 4-0 cruise control.  Their combined score through four wins is a very Oregon-like 239-43.  Having scored at least 55 points every week, even if Nicholls St, Virginia, Tennessee, and Cal got together to pool their points, they'd still come up short against any single Duck performance on the season.  That being said, at least the spreads have been slowly coming down since their 66-3 beat down of the FCS Nicholls St Colonels on opening day.  Comparatively, Cal put the fear of God into them by holding Oregon to a monsoon-aided 55-16 margin last weekend.  Hell, that's almost a nail-biter if you throw away any sense of reason.
No one has yet proven capable of slowing down Oregon. What else is new?
The key, as always in the era of the blur offense, has been the running attack.  The Ducks are piling up over 330 rushing yards per contest, good for best in the nation, and their 1,330 total on the ground is more than the combined total offensive output of their four opponents this season (1282).  They average 7.6 yards per attempt, and have scored 21 times on the ground.  It's pretty much unfair.

Total it up, and the Ducks have the third most productive offense in college football, only behind Baylor and UCLA.  They grab 8.3 yards per offensive snap, and slightly under 600 yards per game despite being 122nd nationally in time of possession - new year, new coach, same output from Oregon.

Defensively, they've been more than good enough to support the offense.  The group gives up fewer than four yards per snap, and is in the top-25 nationally for total defense.  Nothing dominating, but you don't need a lock down defense when your offense can score at will.

Constantly playing with the lead, the defense is able to simply pin their ears back and take chances.  They hold opponents to a 90 passing efficiency rating, which is ninth nationally.  As Coach MacIntyre stated this week, the key to beating the Ducks is to try and keep things close as long as possible to keep the defense honest, and give your offense a chance.  This is exactly why I never take Oregon seriously as a national title contender.  At some point, they'll be in a close game against an opponent with the speed and discipline on defense to keep them honest.  Whether it be UCLA on Oct 26th, Stanford on Nov 7th, or a to-be named BCS opponent in January, I have faith that the Ducks will continue their streak of stumbling when challenged by comparable talent.

Star Players - 

Pre-season Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota leads the Oregon attack from under center.  The 6-4 sophomore QB leads the team with nearly 325 total yards of offense per game, while producing 14 of the team's 31 total scores on the season.  You may not be bowled over by those numbers in comparison to the team totals, but, remember, he has yet to play a full game this season, having turned big leads over to subs Jeff Lockie and Jake Rodrigues each week.  With no turnovers or fumbles-lost to his name, Mariota is the picture of perfection to date in 2013.
He rarely has to work a full 60, but Mariota is one of the nation's best.
When the Ducks feel the need to throw, it'll probably be in the direction of senior wide-out Josh Huff.  The Texas native has 16 catches for 342 yards and two scores on the season, making for a dangerous play-fake option.  Second-choice receiver Braylon Addison is probably most dangerous as a punt returner, where he has already busted two loose for scores in 2013.

Normally, the biggest threat in the Oregon backfield would be junior De'Anthony Thomas.  Unfortuantely for Oregon, Phil Steele's pre-season 1st team All-American running back will be sidelined this week with an ankle injury, allowing the CU defense a brief sigh of relief.   However, don't expect the loss of Thomas, as good as he is, to have much of an impact on Saturday's outcome.  Just two years ago, Oregon came to Boulder without the services of star QB Darron Thomas, and the Ducks didn't miss a beat in their 45-2 victory.  The individual isn't that important in the blur offense; it's the scheme, stupid.  Backups Byron Marshall and Thomas Tyner are more than capable of gashing the Buffs on their own.
No De'Anthony Thomas, no problem for the Ducks in Boulder.
On defense, they feature one of the premier defensive backs in all of college football in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.  The 5-10 junior was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012, and effectively cuts off half the field for the passing game.  Should he leave school after this season, expect to hear his name called early in the 2014 NFL draft.

Up front, look for junior DE Tony Washington to continue to wreak havoc.  The 6-3 California product has 4.5 tackles-for-loss on the season (three sacks), and does a great job getting penetration on passing downs.  He also has forced three fumbles in 2013, meaning CU needs to protect the ball when he's in the area.
Washington can make an impact.
Senior Boseko Lokombo and junior Derrick Malone star in the linebacking corps, combining for 54 tackles this season.

Coaching - 

Much of the talk this week has been in reference to new Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, and his ties back to the early days of the Dan Hawkins era in Boulder.  

From 2006-08, it was Helfrich who was responsible for putting points up on the Folsom Field scoreboard as the Colorado offensive coordinator.  In turn, this makes me wonder how we got to a point that he would be coaching one of the best offenses in the country.  During his tenure with CU, he never coordinated an offense higher than 72nd nationally in production, and I can't remember a single member of BuffNation shedding a tear when he left for Oregon in 2009.  Sure, he was trying to make chicken salad out of chicken shit, but nothing put on the field here made me suspect he'd be considered an offensive guru in-line for a crème-de-la-crème coaching gig four years later.
Helfrich, a familiar face, is the new head Duck.  From: the Register-Guard
I don't mean to dismiss his capabilities, but he has been gifted a souped-up Corvette in Eugene.  Building off of Chip Kelly's foundation, I'm pretty sure a seeing-eye dog could coax the Ducks into scoring over 50 points per game.  The trick for Helfrich, a native Oregonian, will be sustaining the success in future years.  I'm still strictly wait-and-see here.

Again, no offense.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 3-0.  Against the spread: 3-0.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +9.33 pts/gm)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 12pm - CU +39.5, +315, O/U 70

All apologies to the dreamers who still hold out hope for Saturday, but this will be a CU loss.  The Buffs just aren't yet in a position to threaten the Ducks at the height of their powers.  The only question is margin.

Two years ago, the Buffs were saved ultimate humiliation by what passes for Chip Kelly's compassion software (and a second-string QB).  Last year, they were less fortunate, as the Chip-bot 5000 happily ran up the score in front of the home fans.  What tack Helfrich decides to take with the game in hand will be the only thing standing in the way of the over.  I'm not going to bet on his mental state.

As for the line, if you want to bet either way on 39.5 points, feel free.  As for me, I'm staying clear.  When spreads crack 20, I have a hard time taking them seriously.

But, a prediction-free prediction would hardly be sporting.  Half-heartedly, I'll take CU to cover.  Barely.

OU 56 - CU 17