Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

2016 CU vs Oregon Football Teaser

Pressed for time, I'm releasing this a day early.  Enjoy!


Hype Music for the Week: "Song from M*A*S*H" by Johnny Mandel and Mike Altman

Also known as 'Suicide is Painless,' this was the intro lullaby to one of the most successful televisions shows in the history of the medium.  It was apparently meant to be 'the stupidest song ever written.'  I picked this in recognition of the litany of major injuries suffered by both the Buffs and Ducks last week, severely limiting both rosters headed into the tilt.  Enjoy!


Kickoff from Autzen Field in Eugene, OR is set for 3:30pm MT on Saturday.  Televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Network, with the radio possibly on 850 KOA (unless scintillating Colorado Rockies' action preempts).  For those going to the game, weather looks to be pretty nice, with sunshine and mid-70s in the forecast for the Pacific Northwest.  For those watching at home, I hear you're in for room temperature and dry.

Click below for the teaser...

These two teams met last year on a miserably cold and wet October evening in Boulder.  Lightning, wind, rain... you name it, the heavens provided.  It was so bad, pregame, that kickoff was delayed a hour and Ralphie wasn't allowed to run.  Blech.  The weather would eventually calm down, allowing the game to commence, but it certainly wasn't a promising start to the proceedings.
CU couldn't quite slip past the Ducks into victory lane.  From: the Post
Once football finally began, the Buffs actually looked pretty good. Taking advantage of a discombobulated Oregon attack that waffled between their second and third string quarterbacks, CU held the Ducks to a relatively subdued 275 yards of offense through the opening frames and forced four punts (their only four of the game).  Had it not been for a face-palming pair of turnovers on the opening two drives, the Buffs would've held an interstitial lead.  Instead, they would settle for a 17-17 split at the break; even that, though, was a first for Colorado in the modern series with Oregon.  They were in the game!

The problem was that CU was only tied at halftime.  Those turnovers left the door open for the talented Ducks, who came home to roost in the form of a tidal wave of rushing yards.  After a frustrating opening 30 minutes, it seemed as if Oregon finally understood that quarterback play might not be their thing, and they started running the rock; 39 times for 212 yards in the second half.  The Buffs defense, energy flagging, just didn't have enough left in the tank to stem the flow, and Oregon pounded out a two score advantage heading into the 4th quarter. CU would quickly answer in the final frame to bring it back within a single score, but couldn't find the defensive stop to back it up, eventually surrendering with a punt down two scores with only seven minutes to go. From there, it was a direct line to the 41-24 final.
Oregon lost a lot when Mariota walked out the door.  From: USA Today
The funny thing is, that performance actually stands as the high water mark, to date, against Oregon in the Pac-12 era. That Colorado was actually competitive for four quarters against the league's flashy patriarch was a substantial statement about the direction of the program.  It also happened to coincide with a relative return to earth for the Kings of Swoosh, who have taken a decided step backwards from the heights of the combined Chip Kelly/Marcus Mariota eras.

It's important to note in the modern history of the Oregon football program that, when Kelly bolted for the NFL after the 2012 season, he left a well-stocked cupboard behind for current head coach Mark Helfrich.  The center-piece of that cupboard was the QB Mariota, who would eventually go on to win the Heisman in 2014.  With Marcus at the helm, the Ducks were neigh unbeatable, losing just five games over his three year tenure as starter.  He was the institutional answer in the ultimate offensive system; I honestly think it would've taken work not to win 10 games a year with him playing.  In the year-plus since he graduated, however, the Ducks have flopped around without a solidified choice at QB.  They've turned to graduate transfers from the FCS ranks, flirted with in-house options, and fought some injury issues, as well.  All-in-all, they've been finding out that it takes a lot more than just talent to spur that high-end offensive engine, and just plugging in a refurbished transmission from any old parts store just won't do.  As a result, they lost four games last year, were lucky to limit the damage to that many, and are considered by many to be the third-choice in the Pac-12 North this fall. Hell, they may even lose to Washington, for the first time since the dawn of man (hyperbole, but still).  This is getting serious.
*stream of swear words*  LOOK WHAT YOU DID, HELFRICH!  From: NU's shitty team site.
So far in 2016, they've been living down to this newly formulated above-average reputation.  Oregon struggled in Week 2 against Virginia - who had lost to an FCS team the week prior - moving the ball well, but letting the Cavaliers stay in the fight.  As a follow-up, they went into to Lincoln last week and lost to the damned Corn because Helfrich managed the game like a 12-year old playing Madden (going for two after every touchdown).  Statistically, the offense still looks sound; 10th nationally in overall yardage, 8th in rushing, converting on over 50% of 3rd down opportunities. There are some cracks in the foundation, however, on the other side of the ball.  The defense, under the new management and 4-3 scheme of former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke (aka Ol' Pizzafarts), is a disaster in the making.  They're currently 82nd nationally in total defense, surrendering over 400 yards per game; and that's against an early schedule that includes an FCS school (UC Davis, who found the end zone four times) and fucking Virginia.  A lot more 'off than on,' if you ask me.  Long story short, there's some blood in the water, for teams capable of making them pay on defense.  Score points, and you may just find yourself in the ballgame long enough for Helfrich to make a management mistake, just like he did last week.

The prolific Oregon offense is lead by QB Dakota Prukop.  Their second bite at the graduate transfer apple (last year's was Vernon Adams, who's now in the CFL) comes from Montana State, and is about what you'd expect.  Lean at 6-2, 205 lbs, Dakota is a dual-threat who is already the team's second-leading rusher.  Through the air, he has gathered 748 yards and six scores without throwing an interception, but has yet to face any secondary as difficult as Colorado's.  With a little contain from the front seven, he will be put into challenging decisions for the first time all year.  Wideout Darren Carrington is his scariest target out wide, but also look out for TE Pharaoh Brown who has a knack for leaking into profitable space.
Prukop stepped in to grab the reins. From:
The biggest threat in the offense, however, is masterful running back Royce Freeman.  The stocky 5-11, 230 lbs junior is now in his 3rd year of dominating FBS competition, and is one of the elite runners in the country.  Tough to bring down, with a nasty second gear and ability to make you miss with his first cut, he's not that far behind McCaffrey, in terms of pacing the Pac-12 in talent out of the backfield.  Against the Cavaliers in Week 2, he put up 207 yards on 21 carries.  Outside of Peppers, he's the toughest single piece the CU defense has been tasked with stopping; unlike Peppers, however, he's an every down sort of threat.

On defense, a lot of the statistical woes in the early going can be put down to a complete rebuild among the front seven.  Of the eight leading tacklers among their linebackers and linemen a year ago, seven are gone and the 8th, Torrodney Prevot is suspended, leaving a lot of question marks attacking the gaps.  Good talents like Troy Dye, Jonah Moi, and Jalen Jelks are trying to pickup the pieces, but it has been an inconsistent struggle, so far.  As such, I expect them to fall short of containing the run Saturday.  In the backfield, the hierarchy is much more solidified with a bevy of returners.  Tyree Robinson leads the pack, and the 6-4, 205 lbs junior has the most tackles in Eugene after three weeks. True corner Arrion Springs is just as good, and should prove a strong challenge for CU.  Overall, though, this group is well short of what the Buffs faced last week in Ann Arbor.
I expect Freeman to suit up.  From:
The wildcard this weekend is the injury list.  Us in BuffNation are well aware of the status of Diego Gonzales and Derek McCartney: out for the season.  We've also been waiting with bated breath to hear about the status of Sefo Liufau, with the answer weighing heavily on CU's ability to compete in Eugene. What you may not be aware of is that the Ducks are just as worse for wear after their tough Week 3 road loss.  Both WR Devon Allen (he of the Olympics) and LT Tyrell Crosby were declared out for the season.  In addition, the great RB Royce Freeman is also hampered with a leg injury, though he seems to be on track to play this week. Both sides, then, can be considered scrambling in the wake of key losses on both sides of the ball (though the deeper Ducks are in better position to handle the strain).

With that in mind, let's look at the lines...

My 2016 record: 3-0. Against the spread: 1-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -7 pts/gm.
Line as of Wednesday @ 12pm - CU +11, O/U 68.5

With all the injury uncertainty, it took Vegas awhile to get up any action on this game.  When they did, installing the Ducks as a 7.5 point favorite, the money immediately started flowing towards Eugene.  That makes sense, as the availability of Sefo Liufau is up in the air.  As I figure, with Sefo available, the Buffs would have about a 35% or 40% chance of earning the upset.  Without the fourth-year starter under center, I'd put it closer to 10% or 15%.

To that end, Sefo has practiced a little as of Wednesday afternoon, but is still nothing more than a game time decision.  Meanwhile, backup freshman Steve Montez is getting the lion share of reps.  I think Montez would show better than he did in Ann Arbor, but it would still not be enough for a winning effort.  As a result, since Liufau is still a question mark to participate - and, at what level - I'm going to default to a conservative tactic and pick Oregon to cover.

UO 36 - CU 24


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