Colorado at No. 13 Oregon
When and Where: Friday, Oct. 11, Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oreg., 10 p.m. EDT.
So far, Justin Herbert has been more than validated his decision to bypass the NFL Draft and return to Oregon for his senior season.
The Heisman hopeful looks to continue his solid play and keep the 13th-ranked Ducks atop the North Division of the Pac-12 as they host Colorado on Friday night.
One of the question marks about Herbert's ability that prompted his return to Oregon (4-1, 2-0 Pac-12 North) was his accuracy after completing 59.4 percent of his passes in 2018. He has addressed this issue well heading into the midway point of the season, completing 71.6 percent of his passes for 1,341 yards and 15 touchdowns with only one interception.
Herbert, though, got a boost from the Ducks defense and special teams in their 17-7 win over California on Saturday. He took advantage of a short field set up by Jevon Holland's 24-yard punt return and set up the go-ahead touchdown with a 30-yard completion to Jacob Breeland. Herbert put the game out of reach midway through the fourth quarter with a 1-yard scoring toss to Jaylon Redd.
Herbert finished 20 of 33 for 214 yards with that touchdown and one interception while Travis Dye rushed for 81 yards as Oregon finished with 404 total yards.
Colorado (3-2, 1-1 South) is playing its third ranked opponent of the season, having beaten then-No. 25 Nebraska and then-No. 24 Arizona State by a combined six points. The Buffaloes, though, are coming off a 35-30 loss at Arizona on Saturday in a game that featured nine lead changes.
Steven Montez completed 28 of 42 passes for 299 yards, but the absence of top receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive end Mustafa Johnson proved too much to overcome for Colorado, which gave up 487 yards and allowed Arizona to convert 8 of 14 on third down.
Shenault, who was sidelined with a core muscle injury, has 17 catches for 226 yards and two TDs. Troy Brown picked up the slack with a career-best 10 catches along with 141 receiving yards and has 19 catches for 299 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games.
Colorado recorded its first Pac-12 victory over Oregon in six tries in the most recent meeting in 2016, winning 41-38 on the road as Montez threw for 333 yards and three TDs -- including the go-ahead score to Bryce Bobo with 8:43 to play.
Buffs dealing with spate of injuries on both sides of ballColorado coach Mel Tucker's media availability Tuesday at one point resembled a list of the walking wounded with everyone who is listed as day-to-day, or questionable, for Friday night's contest. That again included Shenault and fellow wideout K.D. Nixon, who is second on the team with 18 catches for 302 yards.
Johnson is also among those day-to-day, as is safety Mikial Onu -- he was not on the injury list, but Tucker said he was dealing with a torso injury suffered in the loss to Arizona. Onu has four of Colorado's six interceptions and a key reason why the Buffaloes lead the Pac-12 with a plus-1.6 turnover margin per game.
“They’re going to be ready when they’re ready,” Tucker said of Shenault and Nixon according to the Denver Post. “Those guys want to play. Obviously, they’re competitors and they’re going to do everything they can to help the football team … we’re going to continue to treat them and see where they end up.”
Colorado has outscored opponents 37-3 on points off turnovers, having just four giveaways while recording 12 takeaways.
#cubuffs OL Colby Pursell is out indefinitely as he will have surgery to have his gallbladder removed. Pursell started the first 4 games at RG but did not play last week against Arizona.— Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) October 8, 2019
For Montez, this game brings his collegiate career in full circle as he made his Buffaloes debut in Eugene. In addition to the 333 yards and three scores, he also threw a pair of interceptions. Montez enters this game four touchdown passes shy of matching the school record of 60 set by Cody Hawkins from 2007-10 and matched by Montez's predecessor Sefo Liufau from 2013-16.
Montez on on now vs. when he made his first start at Eugene in 2016: "Just the maturity aspect is a lot different, I like to think. Everyone remembers the win but I threw two picks in that game, it wasn't like it was a perfect performance by me."— Adam Munsterteiger (@adamcm777) October 8, 2019
Since the Pac-12 added Friday night games to its conference scheduling matrix, the road team is 5-14, including 2-11 when traveling out of state according to the Denver Post.
Ducks defense aware of challenge Montez bringsWhile Herbert gets most of the attention when it comes to Oregon, the Ducks defense has put together some impressive numbers in terms of national rankings. The Ducks rank sixth in scoring defense at 9.8 points per game allowed and also are in the top 10 for sacks (19) and passing defense (166.0 ypg) as well as 17th in rushing defense (95.4).
They led the Pac-12 in all those categories, yet there is also some fool's gold among those statistics based on who Oregon has played. The list includes two freshmen quarterbacks, an FCS quarterback, an injured starting quarterback, and most recently against Cal, a backup. That makes facing Montez -- especially if his receiving corps are fully healthy -- a formidable matchup.
“There’s no question this is going to be our biggest challenge," Ducks defensive coordinator Andy Avalos told 24/7 Sports.. "We come every week and say that, but here’s the bottom line — this team has a really good OL, their wide receivers are the best we’ve seen and the quarterback is the most experienced and has a talented arm.
“He is physically very talented in terms of his mobility and his ability to keep his eyes downfield and extend plays when the pocket does break down. There’s a lot of challenges that heposes."
The Ducks also have to make an adjustment on the defensive line after losing Gus Cumberlander for the season with a left knee injury. Cumberlander had 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while starting four of Oregon's five games.
Herbert's offensive numbers aside, Ducks coach Mario Cristobal is looking for bigger things from his offense -- specifically, more big plays. Oregon has just 22 plays of 20 or more yards, which ranks them in the bottom half among FBS teams, but has recorded 85 of 10 or more yards, which puts the Ducks in the top quarter.
"It's certainly trending in the right direction," Cristobal said. "We feel that way because of that 10-plus yard plays that we've had. I am with you 100 percent; we want that 20-yard plus because those will make the drives more successful."
- 5-13-1 ATS in its last 19 games vs. above-.500 teams.
- 4-13 ATS in its last 17 games vs. Pac-12 teams.
- 1-5 ATS in its last six games following a straight up loss.
- 5-1 ATS in its last six games vs. Colorado.
- 4-1 ATS in its last five games following an ATS loss.
- The favorite is 5-1 ATS in the last six games between the teams.