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Oregon-Colorado: A preview, of sorts

The 13th-ranked Oregon Ducks (4-1, 1st in Pac-12 North) will host the Colorado Buffaloes (3-2, 5th in Pac-12 South) on Friday night in Autzen Stadium. Colorado is coming off a crucial loss to Pac-12 South foe Arizona, while the Ducks seized control over the Pac-12 North with a home win against Cal and Washington’s loss to Stanford.

Fridays are usually for letting loose. School/work is over and you want to go home and get ready for a night of fun and recreation, whatever that may entail. This Friday will bring Pac-12 football to a TV or stadium near you. The vibe on campus is similar to that of a regular game, but the energy will be much different in the stadium. People are excited to start the weekend off with a bang—so get your (home)work done early!

In this article, I’ll cover Oregon’s history with midweek games, Colorado, and what to watch for on Friday.

Game Info

  • Who: Colorado Buffaloes @ #13 Oregon Ducks
  • Where: Autzen Stadium in Eugene, OR
  • When: 7pm PT, TV on FS1

Weeknight games: A love/hate relationship

Weeknight games are an interesting subject. They can be pivotal games, as in 2007, 2013 or 2014—but they can also be national showcases for beatdowns, as in the 2010 matchup with UCLA or the game against Cal the following year. The following is a complete chronological list of every regular season weeknight game the Ducks have participated in since their win over Colorado in the 2001-02 Fiesta Bowl:

  • 17-13 loss at Utah in 2003 (Friday)
  • 38-24 win at Houston in 2005 (Thursday)
  • 30-28 Civil War loss 2006 (Friday)
  • 24-34 loss to Arizona 2007 (Thursday)
  • 8-19 loss to Boise 2009 (Thursday)
  • 37-33 Civil War win 2009 (Thursday)
  • 60-13 win vs UCLA 2010 (Thursday)
  • 48-29 win vs Arizona 2010 (Friday)
  • 45-13 win vs Cal 2011 (Thursday)
  • 43-21 win at ASU 2012 (Thursday)
  • 20-26 loss at Stanford 2013 (Thursday)
  • 36-35 Civil War win 2013 (Friday)
  • 31-24 loss vs Arizona 2014 (Thursday)
  • 59-41 win at Cal 2014 (Friday)
  • 61-55 win at ASU 2015 (Thursday)
  • 52-42 Civil War win (Friday)
  • 49-52 loss at Cal 2016 (Friday)
  • 55-15 Civil War win 2018 (Friday)

That’s 11 wins and seven losses in eighteen games. Not really a stellar record. That includes a 6-4 record on Thursdays and a 5-3 one on Fridays. Very “meh.” The same attitude exists for consuming these games, both as a fan of a participant and neutrals. Weeknight matchups can be a lot of fun, and if you’re a football-starving soul searching for any nourishment they can get (like me), they can provide some much-needed entertainment a day or two early. Thursdays might be better for national consumption, but Fridays allow teams to be included in both surrounding Saturdays.

Ducks and Buffs

It’s been a while since Oregon and Colorado met. In the last decade-plus, Oregon has mainly used Colorado as a punching bag en route to a double-digit-win season, but the roles reversed the last time these two teams met. See below:

Oregon vs Colorado this centuryResultCU coach (season record)UO head coach (season record)
2001-02 Fiesta Bowl38-16 OregonGary Barnett (10-3)Mike Bellotti (11-1)
2011 Pac-1245-2 OregonJon Embree (3-10)Chip Kelly (12-2)
2012 Pac-1270-14 OregonEmbree (1-11)Kelly (12-1)
2013 Pac-1257-16 OregonMike MacIntyre (4-8)Mark Helfrich (11-2)
2014 Pac-1244-10 OregonMacIntyre (2-10)Helfrich (13-2)
2015 Pac-1241-24 OregonMacIntyre (4-9)Helfrich (9-4)
2016 Pac-1241-38 ColoradoMacIntyre (10-4)Helfrich (4-8)

While this would indicate a positive trend for Colorado, the reality is that these two programs haven’t played each other since the Mark Helfrich era. This 2019 season better resembles the bulk of the recent results so far.

Implications

Oregon is seen as the only Pac-12 team with a shot at the College Football Playoff, while Colorado enters with a 3-2 record after a 35-30 home loss to Arizona. Colorado’s season started strong enough, beating rivals Northern Colorado and a ranked Nebraska in consecutive weeks. However, they were humbled by an overtime loss to Air Force that required 13 fourth-quarter points for the Buffs to even stay in it.

Their first two conference games pitted Colorado against both Arizona schools. First, they earned a hard-fought win in the desert against Herm Edwards‘ ranked Sun Devils. However, the Buffs were exposed by Khalil Tate and Arizona at home the following week. Tate racked up 404 yards and three touchdowns, completing 31 of his 41 passes. Many of these were quick screens or shallow routes, but Colorado struggled to defend deep areas as well, giving up 75- and 33-yard touchdown passes. Both conference games had point totals of 65.

Colorado could have put themselves in the driver’s seat if they’d beaten Arizona, but they’re now nearing Pac-12 Championship exclusion for the eighth time in nine years with games against Washington State, Washington, USC, and Utah still remaining.

What to expect

Colorado has a lot of talent at wide receiver, with Senior Tony Brown adding to the production from star Juniors K.D. Nixon and Laviska Shenault Jr. All three wide-outs have had at least one 100-yard game each thus far, and Brown has had two. They have been bitten by the injury bug recently, though, and both Shenault and Dixon are still day-to-day, as are Russell Brady and Jalen Harris—Colorado’s first- and second-string tight ends.

Colorado’s fifth-year quarterback, Steven Montez, will be familiar to Duck fans from the 2016 matchup in Autzen. Back then, a redshirt freshman Montez was backing up injured starter Sefo Liufau, and the youngster didn’t disappoint. Montez threw three touchdowns as the Buffs beat the Ducks by three points. His 177.7 passer rating still ranks as his fourth-best performance against a Power 5 opponent. So far this season, Montez has thrown 10 TDs and two interceptions to go with his 67% completion percentage. He also has two more completions than Justin Herbert through five games.

Montez and the Colorado passing attack could be a dangerous weapon if the injuries aren’t too much to overcome, and will surely be fun to watch against Oregon’s nationally-ranked defense that has been the best in the Pac-12 thus far. Ducks Defensive Coordinator Andy Avalos called the Colorado offense Oregon’s “toughest challenge yet.”

The Buffs defense will certainly have to improve if they have any shot at upsetting the Ducks, though. Their unit is yet to concede less than 30 points against any foe in 2019. Add a couple starters—safety Mikial Onu and nose tackle Jalen Sami—to the list of day-to-day players that could have big impacts in this one. As Tate did last week, Justin Herbert will have to be his most disciplined self this week. Expect to see a lot of passing against a vulnerable Colorado secondary. One thing Colorado’s defense is good at, though, is forcing turnovers. They lead the conference with 2.4 turnovers per game, and this was a big issue for the Oregon offense last week.

Like the game against Cal, the Ducks will expect to win this game comfortably. Oregon is a three-touchdown favorite. Although I incorrectly predicted Oregon to beat the three-score spread last Saturday, the Ducks squandered four possessions on Cal’s end of the field in the first half—turning the ball over three times and missing a field goal—and still won by two scores. These first two turnovers occurred in the red zone and the Ducks could have had all the momentum early if not for the self-inflicted errors.

Prediction

To review: I expect the Ducks to pass the ball quite a bit and exploit some gaps in Colorado’s secondary. I also expect Steven Montez and the Colorado offense to compete well and score at least a touchdown, maybe two. It might be tough for the Ducks to cover this spread, but I still expect them to win comfortably and show some growth on offense: 31-13 Oregon.

All stats from sports-reference.com.

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