Buffaloes scouting report
Head coach: Mel Tucker, 1st season (3-2)
Record: 3-2, 1-1 Pac-12
Last week: Lost at home to Arizona, 35-30
Key players on offense
- WR Tony Brown, Sr., 6-1, 195: 29 catches, 442 yards, 4 TD
- RB Alex Fontenot, So., 6-0, 195: 88 att., 392 yards, 4 TD
- QB Steven Montez, Sr., 6-5, 230: 118-of-176, 1,463 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT
Key players on defense
- ILB Nate Landman, Jr., 6-3, 230: 60 tackles, 5 third-down stops
- DE Terrance Lang, So., 6-7, 280: 17 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 QB pressures
- S Mikial Onu, Sr., 5-11, 205: 27 tackles, 4 INT, 2 forced fumbles
CU offense: Led by Montez at QB, the Buffs continue putting up consistently solid numbers on offense. They come into this week ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring (34.6 points per game) and sixth in total yards (447.0 per game). Montez has been the main cog. When he – and the offensive line – have played well, the Buffs usually play well. Even without Laviska Shenault having the monster year many expected, Montez has spread the ball to Brown, KD Nixon, Dimitri Stanley and even the tight ends. Alex Fontenot has taken hold of the featured tailback spot, but freshman Jaren Mangham has given the Buffs a spark, as well.
CU defense: The biggest question going into this week: Who is actually going to play on defense for the Buffs? Cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Chris Miller are out for the season. Defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson missed last week with an ankle injury and nose tackle Jalen Sami left the game with a knee injury. Safety Aaron Maddox has missed two games in a row, while the other starter at safety, Mikial Onu, missed most of the second half with a torso injury last week. Despite all of that, the Buffs have typically been better in the second half and have produced turnovers. The overall numbers are not good, however. They rank 11th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (31.6), 10th in total defense (470.6) and 11th in pass efficiency defense.
CU special teams: This continues to be a consistent strength for the Buffs, as kicker James Stefanou and punter Alex Kinney are among the best in the Pac-12 (if not the country). Stefanou is 9-for-9 on field goals – one of only five kickers in the country to be perfect with nine or more attempts – and 20-for-21 on extra points (one was blocked by Air Force). Kinney has averaged 41.8 yards per punt and placed 10 inside the 20, a number that is tied for second in the conference.
CU keys to beating Oregon
Kids rising up on defense: Because of injuries, it’s unclear who will actually play on defense, but we know that after senior Delrick Abrams, the Buffs will be leaning on two true freshmen at corner (KJ Trujillo and Tarik Luckett), two on the defensive line (Na’im Rodman and Austin Williams) and possibly one at nickel (Mark Perry). That group will have to grow up quickly.
Montez staying calm and mistake free: The Buffs’ senior QB won in his only other appearance at Autzen Stadium (in 2016), but he was surrounded by senior leaders. Now, he’s the senior leader. The offense – and really the whole team – needs him to avoid mistakes, keep his poise and be a leader on the sidelines.
Avoid giving up big plays: CU’s defense has been shredded by big plays all season. Oregon is more than capable of burning the Buffs, but CU has to try to limit the damage.
Don’t be in awe of the situation: Young, inexperienced teams can get caught in that trap of focusing too much on Oregon’s ranking and reputation, and the noise of the Ducks’ crowd. The Buffs have to block all of that out and just play football.
- Colorado is 3-0 in its last three trips to the state of Oregon: Winning at Oregon State in 2015 and 2017 and at Oregon in 2016.
- CU has allowed 30-plus points in each of the first five games. That’s the longest streak to start a season in program history. Dating back to last year, the Buffs have given up 30-plus in 10 straight games, the program’s longest streak since 11 in a row in 2012.
- Steven Montez has posted a 184.0 quarterback rating in the fourth quarter this season, by far his best of any quarter. In the fourth, he is 32-of-42 (76.2 percent) for 426 yards, 3 TD and zero interceptions.
- Montez needs four touchdown passes to tie the school’s career record. He has 56 career touchdown passes, behind Sefo Liufau and Cody Hawkins, who both had 60. He has two four-TD games in his career.
- Receiver KD Nixon needs 45 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for his career.
Ducks scouting report
Head coach: Mario Cristobal, 2nd season (13-6; 40-53 career)
Record: 4-1, 2-0 Pac-12
Last week: Defeated California, 17-7, at home
Key players on offense
- TE Jacob Breeland, Sr., 6-5, 250: 23 catches, 352 yards, 5 TD
- QB Justin Herbert, Sr., 6-6, 237: 116-of-162, 1,341 yards, 15 TD, 1 INT
- RT Calvin Throckmorton, Sr., 6-5, 309: 43 consecutive starts at 4 different positions
Key players on defense
- LB Troy Dye, Sr., 6-4, 226: 29 tackles, 5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 INT
- ST Mase Funa, Fr., 6-2, 260: 10 tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks
- NB Jevon Holland, So., 6-1, 196: 24 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT
Oregon offense: The Ducks are led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country (Herbert) and an offensive line that national analyst Phil Steele rated as the best in the nation coming into the year. While they aren’t racking up massive numbers like this program was used to doing for many years, it’s a very efficient offense. Through five games, the Ducks’ points and yards are almost identical to CU, but they’ve also played two of the top defensive teams in the country (Auburn, Cal). Herbert has played nearly mistake free (one interception), while the running back duo of CJ Verdell and Travis Dye keeps the sticks moving.
Oregon defense: Not long ago, Oregon tried to outscore everybody and seemingly didn’t worry about defense. Now, the Ducks are playing historically well on this side of the ball. For the first time since 1960, they’ve held four consecutive points below 10 points. Only one touchdown has been scored on this group the last four games. They’re succeeding by making big plays all over the field. Since giving up 206 yards on the ground to Auburn in the opener, the Ducks have been downright stingy against the run, giving up 67.8 yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry the last four weeks. They’ve generated 18 sacks in those games, as well, and lead the Pac-12 in pass defense.
Oregon special teams: If there’s a weakness for the Ducks, this is it. Kicker Camden Lewis is 1-for-4 on field goals, with two misses inside 30 yards. Fortunately for Oregon, that typically isn’t a difference maker in a game, as they rarely kick field goals anyway. Punter Blake Maimone has been sold so far this season.
Oregon keys to beating CU
Dominate up front on defense: Oregon’s run defense and pass rush have been exceptional the last four weeks. With blue-chip freshman end Kayvon Thibodeaux, nose tackle Jordon Scott and all-Pac-12 linebacker Troy Dye leading the way, the Ducks’ front seven has the ability to make life tough for the Buffs.
Avoid turnovers: Typically in games like this, where one team is heavily favored over another, turnovers can be game changing and give momentum to the underdog. CU has been very good at forcing turnovers, so the Ducks have to protect the ball.
Start fast: Oregon is supposed to win this game by a lot, and the Buffs are coming in with a host of injuries. If the Ducks can jump out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, they could cruise. Let the Buffs hang around a while and the game gets interesting.
Focus on the Buffs: Next week, the Ducks might be playing for the Pac-12 North title – and fighting to keep their College Football Playoffs hopes alive – when they visit Washington. They can’t forget to take care of business against CU first, though.
- In six meetings with CU since the Buffs joined the Pac-12 in 2011, Oregon has averaged 331.0 rushing yards, with at least 215 every time. The Ducks have at least three rushing TDs in each of those games, and 22 overall.
- The Ducks are 93-18 all-time when playing as a ranked team at Autzen Stadium, including 27-3 in their 30 such games.
- Oregon is the first Power 5 conference team to hold four consecutive opponents to single-digit points since Michigan in 2015.
- The Ducks’ offensive line has a combined 178 career starts – the most in the nation.
- Quarterback Justin Herbert has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 33 consecutive games, which is the longest streak in the country.
- Herbert is the only QB in the Pac-12 with more career starts than Montez (33 to 32). Herbert made his first career start two weeks after CU’s 41-38 upset of the Ducks in 2016 (Montez made his first start that day, while Herbert did not play).
- Right tackle Calvin Throckmorton has allowed just one sack in the last 1,294 snaps he’s played in pass protection, while center Jake Hanson has allowed zero sacks in 1,455 career pass protection snaps.