Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, November 21, 2014

2014 Oregon Football Preview

Not much to say before this.  The Buffs face a massively difficult road test in Eugene this weekend, in essentially an 'us against the world' scenario.  No one thinks CU has a chance in hell of even competing for a few minutes tomorrow, and the rest of the college football landscape sees this one as a rest stop on the way to Santa Clara for the Ducks.  But, as Chris Berman famously says, 'that's why they play the game.' Weirder things have happened...

Kickoff from the house that the Swoosh built is set for 2:30pm on Saturday.  Televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Let the record show that CU hung with the Ducks for about 20 minutes last fall.  Let the record also show that those heady moments of competition quickly gave way to the status quo, with Oregon piling on the points for a 43-16 halftime lead, and a 57-16 final.
Shock plays, like DD Goodson's first quarter score, were, ultimately, unsustainable.  From: the BDC
It all started out well enough, with CU holding the Oregon offense to a three-and-out on their first possession before storming down the field for a quick field goal and a 3-0 lead. After an immediate UO response via a textbook nine-play, 75 yard, 1:49 touchdown drive, the Buffs even managed to retake the lead through a brilliant 75-yard WR option pass from Paul Richardson to DD Goodson. But it was all short lived, as a pair of ugly Connor Wood interceptions stifled momentum, and allowed Oregon to open the scoring floodgates for the rest of the half.

Duck QB Marcus Mariota had another Heisman-esque day, putting up 398 total yards and seven combined scores on CU, despite not even sniffing the field in the fourth quarter. For the Buffs, the star was, as usual, Paul Richardson, who, in addition to that TD pass, hauled in five catches of 134 yards, and could've had more if not for an untimely drop late in the second quarter.
Hey, remember P-Rich?  That guy was awesome.  From: the BDC
By my estimation, Colorado just played the first half too quickly, as short possessions - whether scoring or not - only kept Oregon's blazingly fast offense on the field. CU moved the ball a little, and made some decent plays on defense (Addison Gillam, especially), but every time I looked up on the scoreboard, the clock seemed stuck in the mud. Eventually, given a stream of possessions, that Oregon offense is going to dictate terms, and when they did, the Buffs couldn't get to halftime fast enough.

Yes, the Buffs did look feisty and competitive for a few minutes, and hooray for effort, but they couldn't move the ball at all against the second and third string in the second half, finished an abysmal 0-15 on third downs, and still failed to even cover after that hot start. Had the clock been managed better, and had the Buffs continued to make adjustments in the second half, they could've, should've hung with Oregon even longer.

The Ducks in 2014 - 

You only have to look as far as the College Football Playoff rankings to see just how good of a season Oregon has been enjoying this fall.  #2 in the country, ahead of undefeated Florida State.  In the driver's seat for a shot at a national title.  Should they win out, the Ducks are in the mini-dance for sure. For a program that hasn't finished outside of the top-10 since the aughts, it's just another year in the hunt.

Their lone loss was all the way back in early October; a 31-24 defeat the hands of the now-#15 Arizona Wildcats.  It seemed like a minor miracle at the time, as 'Zona marched into Autzen Stadium to claim their second win in as many seasons over the Pac-12 favorites, but, in retrospect, it no longer strikes as completely crazy.  For one, Arizona has turned out to be a pretty darned good football team.  The Ducks also played that game without star right tackle Jake Fisher, whose absence was particularly felt on the ground, as the normally prolific attack only ran for 3.5 yards per carry.  I guess, if they were going to lose one game this year, an understandable hiccup early in the season is better than something at this stage.
Only the Arizona loss stands between the Ducks and a perfect run.
Since then, they've played well, clocking all comers, and really only facing a scare in Levi's Stadium against Cal.  They even handily beat their old nemesis, the Stanford Cardinal.  For the season, the Ducks are up 460-250, which just kind of makes your head hurt.  Don't doubt it, they deserve to be where they're at in the polls.

Statistically, it's what you would expect.  The Ducks are 5th in the nation in offensive production, coming in at over 530 yards per game, and converting on over 50% of their third downs.  But they're not the one trick pony of years past, where the running game was the dominant focus.  Oregon is actually more deadly through the air in 2014 than they are on the ground, an interesting turn of events that has more to do with the man under center than any real change in philosophy. They're first nationally in passing efficiency, and are throwing for nearly 300 yards per contest now.  Still, the lighting quick offense gets its fair share of rushing yards, and the whole package seems impossible to stop (unless you're Rich Rod running the 3-3-5).  46 points per game is a whole hell of a lot of production.
Tons of points, lightning fast pace... Yep, still the Ducks.
On defense, they're hampered by the fact that their offensive counterparts are so good.  Drives simply end too quickly, and the 'D' gets hung out to dry.  Whether by tiring out due to repeatedly seeing the field (they've faced nearly 800 plays this fall), or getting caught up in multiple-possession displays of offensive efficiency, they get punished for the deeds performed by their teammates.  So, take it with a grain of salt that the Oregon 'D' is 107th in defense, and 120th in passing yardage allowed.  Opponents have to do whatever they can to keep up, so their numbers are naturally going to be ugly.

Star Players - 

Where else to start but under center with Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota.  The 6-4, 220 lb junior out of Honolulu has been a force to be reckoned with out West since his freshman season, and looks to be on the verge of capping a sterling career with the greatest individual prize in 'amateur' athletics.  He's so good, even a speeding ticket can't slow him down.
Mariota seems poised to win the Heisman.
Mariota has the entire package - size, speed, vision, accuracy, and intelligence.  It's no wonder that he has produced over 3,300 yards and 37 scores with four, maybe five games to play.  Most seductive about his game, however, is his ability to avoid mistakes.  He only has two interceptions on the year, 12 for his career, and rarely puts his team in position to doubt him.  That's what made his stumble in the final minutes against Arizona - when a strip-sack killed all hope of a comeback - so jaw-dropping.  It was the exception that proves the rule.

Football just looks too easy for Marcus.  If you cover his receivers, he counters with the run.  If you leave a spy in the box, he picks you apart through the air.  Mix up your coverage, and he makes the right play at the right time to beat you.  Sure, he's got great help around him, but none, even those with just as much talent on their sidelines, have done as much as Mariota to make the game his.  Truly a transformational performer.

In the backfield, freshman Royce Freeman gets to play off Marcus in the zone read.  The rookie came into fall camp and stole the show from more experienced teammates.  It's always a matter of who, rather than if, in the Oregon running back corps, and the 6-0, 230 lbs workhorse from Imperial, CA has more than earned his keep.  He's only 55 yards away from the first ever 1,000 yard season from a true frosh in Eugene, and already claims 14 touchdowns to his name.  Get ready, because you'll be hearing his name frequently over the next few years.
Expect to see a lot of this tomorrow.
Out on the edge, the accurate Mariota has had a plethora of targets to aim for.  Byron Marshall, Devon Allen, Dwayne Stanford, and Pharaoh Brown each have at least 25 catches, 420 yards receiving, and four scores to their name this season.  The junior, Marshall, leads the team in catches and yards, but is technically listed as a running back.  Don't let that fool you, however, as he'll line up all over the place.  Brown, the big 6-6, 250 lbs junior tight end, was injured two weeks ago against Utah, and is out for the year.

On defense, the leading tackler is senior safety Erick Dargan - an impact player who also leads the Pac-12 in interceptions (five). The 5-1, 210 lbs Pittsburgh native will make like miserable for whoever is the CU quarterback tomorrow.  He fits well in a talented backfield that features fellow seniors Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (should play despite a bad toe) and Troy Hill.  The trio have combined for 30 passes defended this season.
Dargan is a solid play-maker in the defensive backfield.
Up front, the team relies on linebacker Tony Washington and end DeForest Buckner.  They're the best on the roster at getting into the backfield, and have combined for seven sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss. Washington had his hand in the Arizona loss, when an ill-timed bow earned a backbreaking flag from the officials.

Coaching - 

Mark Helfrich (which always reminded me of the Flying Hellfish) eyes the close of his second year at the helm in Eugene, trying to do what his predecessor never could - win a national title.  All glory to the Chipbot 5000, but the Ducks haven't missed a beat without the guru of the blur offense; a credit to Helfrich.  I'm not sure what's going to happen if/when Oregon has to play one of the SEC powers in January, but they're solidly the best out of a loaded Pac-12 Conference.
Helfrich has benefited greatly from the presence of Mariota, but you can't deny the wins.
Of course, those in BuffNation know Coach Helfrich as Dan Hawkins' former offensive coordinator.  Yes, the head of one of the sexiest programs in all of college football was once the mastermind behind the infamous Cody-to-Scotty connection.  Not that things would've been different, but you have to wonder how things could've been different had he stayed in Boulder.

Prediction - 

My record: 8-2. Against the spread: 5-5. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +4.8 pts/gm
Line as of Thursday @ 11am - CU +33, O/U 73

LOL, hell no.  Not only do the Buffs not have a chance, but that 33 points is a joke, as well.  Unless Oregon doesn't try, or they all catch ebola between now and kickoff, they have the cover in the bag.  Not only is this game in Eugene, but, with all the injuries the Buffs' secondary is currently carrying, there's really no hope of competing in this one.  It's all a matter of what number the Ducks feel they need to put up to keep their spot in the playoff standings.

With that understood, let's get real.  This game kicks off at 2:30.  The basketball team is in Laramie for a game that tips off at 4.  Affairs in the Pacific Northwest should be well wrapped up by then, so why not flip over to the ESPN3 stream of CU vs Wyo?  I promise you that game will be significantly more competitive from start to finish.

UO (whatever they want) - CU 10


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