EUGENE, Ore. – Through the first five games of the Mel Tucker era, the Colorado football team had won more than it had lost, and the losses left the Buffaloes feeling they were oh-so-close to being a great team.
On Friday night, the Buffs were thoroughly beaten and reminded that they’ve got a long way to go.
“Obviously very disappointed with how the game turned out tonight,” Tucker, the Buffs’ first-year head coach said after a 45-3 loss to No. 13 Oregon at Autzen Stadium. “It’s a really kind of heated situation (in the locker room). Guys are frustrated; they want to win, but the answer is with the simple truth and that’s what I told the team.
“We’ve got to take this time on the way back to really look within ourselves individually – and you can’t lie to yourself – and just figure out what I have to do to get better. Don’t try to justify something that’s not real. And just let’s face it up. As long as we do that, we’ll have an opportunity to get better from this. Sometimes as we’re trying to get to where we know we need to get to, unfortunately, sometimes we got to go through it. And that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re right in the middle of it. We’re going through it.”
Just six days earlier, CU (3-3, 1-2 Pac-12) was playing for sole possession of first place in the South division and fell just five excruciating points short against Arizona, 35-30, at Folsom Field.
Friday was vastly different, as Oregon (5-1, 3-0) handed the Buffs their worst loss since a 59-7 defeat at Washington on Nov. 9, 2013.
Quarterback Steven Montez, who led the Buffs to a stunning 41-38 upset of the Ducks on this field in his first career start on Sept. 24, 2016, had a disastrous night this time. The senior completed just 19-of-34 passes for 131 yards and a career-high four interceptions.
Montez had thrown 115 passes without an interception before his first one, and then threw four in a span of nine throws. Those turnovers were huge, but they were hardly the sole reason for this beat down.
CU was flagged a season-high 14 times for 114 yards, including a personal foul against tight end Jalen Harris that led to his ejection from the game for throwing punches.
Defensively, the Buffs gave up 527 yards, including 252 on the ground. Cyrus Habibi-Likio ran for 47 yards and three touchdowns, while CJ Verdell rushed for 171 yards for the Ducks.
Oregon’s star quarterback Justin Herbert, a candidate for the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns – extending his nation-long streak to 34 consecutive games with at least one TD pass. It was a solid performance in front of two dozen NFL scouts, including three general managers.
Coming in as 21-point underdogs, the Buffs had a tough hill to climb from the start against the Ducks, who have now held five consecutive opponents below 10 points.
Despite those odds and the ugliness of the final numbers, the Buffs were in position to make a game of it late in the first half.
Trailing 17-3, CU took advantage of two pass interference penalties against the Ducks to set up a first-and-goal from the Oregon 3-yard line.
After an Alex Fontenot run to the 1, the Buffs were flagged for a false start to move back five yards. They got those back on a 5-yard pass from Montez to Fontenot. But, on third-and-goal from 1, the Buffs ran a puzzling play that looked disjointed from the start and included a 10-yard holding penalty. Capping the sequence, Montez tried to hit tight end Brady Russell in the end zone, but the pass was tipped and picked off by the Ducks’ Verone McKinley III as he was falling out bounds.
Eight plays, 80 yards and 67 seconds later, Oregon’s Jaylon Redd scored from 3 yards out with 20 seconds to play in the half.
Instead of potentially pulling within 17-10 going into the break (and getting the ball to start the third quarter), the Buffs went into the locker room trailing 24-3.
Two plays into the third quarter, McKinley tipped another Montez pass, which was picked off by Bryson Young. That set up a Herbert-to-Redd 13-yard touchdown pass.
Four plays after that, McKinley picked off Montez again and returned it to the CU 3. That set up Habibi-Likio’s 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Ducks a 38-3 lead.
“We used to call it the 10 minutes to victory – the five minutes before the half to five minutes after the half,” Tucker said. “There’s a lot of games decided in that period of time right there. Obviously (at halftime) we knew the game is not over, we’re not out of it. But against a good football team, when we make mistakes like that, and we allow things like that to happen, then it’s going make it really tough. And that’s what happened.”
After those pivotal 10 minutes, the Buffs were cooked and left with some soul-searching before the second half of the season.
“Just didn’t play well,” Montez said. “Bad plays compounded on top of each other. It’s just bad play after another bad play after a mental mistake, missed assignment, errors. It just kind of stacked on top of each other and it kind of got out of hand.
“We’ve got to play better. That’s the only thing that sticks out to me right now is just got to play better.”
Oregon 45, Colorado 3
Play of the game: For the Buffs, it would be the only play that resulted in points – James Stefanou’s 27-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Turning point: CU was 1-yard away from a touchdown that would have cut their deficit to 17-10 in the final minute of the first half. The Buffs never got that yard, though, as Oregon picked off a CU pass in the end zone with 1:27 to play in the half. Over the next 5:47 of game time, the Ducks scored three touchdowns and picked off two more passes to build a 38-3 lead.
Top 3 Buffs of the game
1. LB Nate Landman: He led the team with 14 tackles and a season-high two tackles for loss.
2. RB Alex Fontenot: The offense didn’t do much, but Fontenot rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries.
3. CB Delrick Abrams: He was solid in pass coverage and finished with six tackles and two pass breakups.
No. 13 Oregon 45, Colorado 3
Colorado 3 0 0 0 — 3
Oregon 7 17 14 7 — 45
ORE – Breeland 7 pass from J.Herbert (C.Lewis kick), 11:37
COL – FG Stefanou 27, 2:46
ORE – FG C.Lewis 32, 14:10
ORE – Habibi-Likio 1 run (C.Lewis kick), 7:39
ORE – Redd 3 run (C.Lewis kick), :20
ORE – Redd 13 pass from J.Herbert (C.Lewis kick), 12:54
ORE – Habibi-Likio 3 run (C.Lewis kick), 10:40
ORE – Habibi-Likio 1 run (C.Lewis kick), 7:39
First downs 21 24
Rushes-yards 40-168 36-252
Passing 131 275
Comp-Att-Int 19-34-4 19-35-0
Return Yards 127 63
Punts-Avg. 4-38.75 2-44.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 14-114 10-119
Time of Possession 35:37 24:23
RUSHING – Colorado, Fontenot 15-71, Mangham 10-42, D.Smith 7-41, Montez 3-12, Stanley 1-4, J.Davis 2-0, T.Lytle 1-(minus 1), (Team) 1-(minus 1). Oregon, Verdell 14-171, Tra.Dye 3-54, Habibi-Likio 13-47, Felix 3-8, Redd 1-3, J.Herbert 1-(minus 12), (Team) 1-(minus 19).
PASSING – Colorado, Montez 19-34-4-131. Oregon, J.Herbert 18-32-0-261, Shough 1-2-0-14, (Team) 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING – Colorado, Brown 5-16, L.Shenault 4-70, Stanley 4-17, Fontenot 3-12, Russell 1-8, Harris 1-5, Mangham 1-3. Oregon, Redd 4-75, Pittman 3-57, Breeland 3-53, Juw.Johnson 2-36, Johnson III 2-24, Verdell 2-8, D.Davis 1-14, Felix 1-4, Addison 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS_Colorado, Stefanou 33.