Buffaloes scouting report
Head coach: Karl Dorrell, 2nd season (6-7; 41-34 career)
2021 Record: 2-5, 1-3 Pac-12
Last week: Lost at California, 26-3
5 Players to Watch
- LB Robert Barnes: He played a season-high 31 snaps last week at Cal and with Nate Landman out this week, he could see that number increase. Barnes has recorded 10 tackles this season.
- CB Christian Gonzalez: He’s been exceptional this season and will get a significant test against a talented group of Oregon receivers. Gonzalez has allowed just one touchdown this season and has racked up five tackles for loss.
- Offensive line: Given the change this week, with CU firing line coach Mitch Rodrigue, eyes will be on this group to see how they respond. It’s been a rough year for the line, but the Buffs need them to rise up against the talented Ducks.
- WR Daniel Arias: He has only eight catches this season but has caught at least in the last three games. He could be a target for QB Brendon Lewis.
- OLB Carson Wells: In recent weeks, he has been a beast. In the last three games, he has seven tackles for loss, an interception and a sack.
CU offense: Still seeking some sort of spark, the Buffs fired their offensive line coach this week and revamped the system up front. How much of an impact that makes, we’ll see. The offense has produced just six touchdowns in the last six games combined and ranks last in the country (130th) in yards, at 238.1 per game. Simply crossing midfield was a struggle last week, but the Buffs are hoping freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis can get on track. “Offense has been our struggle and we know that,” Dorrell said. “We’ve been working for weeks, with trying to create a level of consistency with how we’re playing offense and we just haven’t been able to put it all together on a consistent basis. I felt it was the right time to (make a change with the offensive line), trying to give our players some energy, some redirection and some focus as we finish these last five games of the season.”
CU defense: Overall, this continues to be a solid unit, but the Buffs will play without their leader, Nate Landman, who was injured last week. Without him, the Buffs could go with a committee approach to fill the void, but they’ll need plenty of players to step up. Outside linebacker Carson Wells, cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon and Christian Gonzalez and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson are among the top players that will need to rise up to the challenge. So far this season, the Buffs rank third in the Pac-12 in scoring defense and sixth in yards allowed, but rank at the bottom of the conference in takeaways (five) and sacks (eight).
CU special teams: It’s been the weekly bright spot, as Cole Becker and Josh Watts continue to play well. Becker has now made five consecutive field goals. Watts has moved up to sixth nationally in punting average, at 48.71 yards per kick. He’s also top-10 in average punts per game (6.0), a number CU would like to reduce.
CU keys to victory
Hang on as long as possible: With the offense struggling, the Buffs aren’t equipped to rally from a big deficit, so they need to keep the game close as long as possible to have a shot in the fourth quarter.
Create and capitalize: The formula for an upset usually includes some turnovers and fortunate breaks. The Buffs will need those against the Ducks. They might need to get a couple of turnovers and convert them into touchdowns, while also making Oregon pay for any other mistakes, such as penalties, dropped passes, etc.
Explosive plays: CU needs more on offense and needs to prevent them on defense. So far this season, the Buffs have just 14 plays of 20-plus yards and nine of them have come in their two wins. Oregon has 32 plays of 20-plus yards, including five plays of at least 50 yards.
- In 12 career regular season games – the equivalent of a full regular season – Jarek Broussard has gained 1,150 rushing yards. He needs 50 yards to break into the top 40 on CU’s career rushing chart.
- CU has lost 15 consecutive road games against top-10 teams since a 27-17 win at No. 7 Kansas State on Nov. 18, 1995; CU was ranked No. 9 at the time. The last time an unranked CU team upset a top-10 team on the road was on Nov. 21, 1970, a 49-19 win at No. 10 Air Force.
- Through the first two games of the season, the Buffs averaged 216.0 rushing yards per game and 4.97 yards per carry. In five games since, they have averaged 79.2 rushing yards per game and 2.32 yards per carry.
- Buffs’ receiver Brenden Rice has already had five plays of 50-plus yards in his career, including three on receptions, one on a punt return and one on a kickoff return.
- CU is the only team in the country that has yet to reach 1,000 yards passing or rushing. The Buffs, in fact, haven’t even reached 900 in either category, as they come into this week with 848 rushing yards and 819 passing yards.
Ducks scouting report
Head coach: Mario Cristobal, 4th season (31-11; 58-58 career)
2021 Record: 6-1, 3-1 Pac-12
Last week: Beat UCLA, 34-31, on the road
5 Players to Watch
- QB Anthony Brown: A transfer from Boston College, he has been up and down but is a talented dual-threat. He’s thrown for 1,490 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions while adding 327 yards and six touchdowns as a runner.
- RB Travis Dye: With running mate CJ Verdell out for the season, Dye is carrying the load. He has rushed for 562 yards and eight touchdowns, gaining 6.0 yards per carry. He also leads the Ducks with 19 receptions (for 189 yards). Dye has more runs of 20-plus yards (six) than CU’s entire offense (five).
- S Verone McKinley III: A top playmaker in the secondary and semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, he’s racked up 40 tackles, four interceptions, four pass breakups and a forced fumble this season.
- LB Noah Sewell: Leads the Ducks with 63 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He also had two pass breakups.
- DE Kayvon Thibodeaux: One of the country’s best defenders, he’s played in only five games, but has 22 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks, along with two forced fumbles.
Oregon offense: Nobody on offense has put up monster numbers, but the Ducks are loaded with talent and have a balanced attack. They are top five in the Pac-12 in rushing and passing efficiency. Travis Dye leads the rushing attack, but quarterback Anthony Brown is a dual-threat who can burn the opposition with his feet. In the passing game, Johnny Johnson III, Mycah Pittman, Jaylon Redd and Devon Williams are all elite receivers, but 16 different players have caught passes this season. “They’ve got a quarterback that, I think he’s a crunch time player,” Dorrell said. “He finds ways to make plays in critical moments.”
Oregon defense: There is exceptional talent on the Ducks’ defense, but it hasn’t always shown up statistically. Oregon gives up a lot of passing yards (266.6 per game), a lot of first downs (24.9 per game) and ranks 11th in the Pac-12 in total yards allowed (400.1 per game). However, this is a group that is fourth in the conference in points allowed (22.4 per game), because they made big plays at the right time. The Ducks are solid in the red zone and have created a Pac-12-best 16 turnovers, including 11 interceptions. “Defensively, their front is probably as good a front as we’ll see so far over the course of the season,” Dorrell said.
Oregon special teams: Camden Leis is the only kicker in the Pac-12 who is perfect on field goals (7-for-7) this season. It’s a significant jump for Lewis, who made just 55.6% percent of his field goals during the first two years of his career. He’s also 30-for-31 on extra points. Punter Tom Snee is averaging 44.2 yards per punt and has pinned the opponent inside its 20 on 11 of 24 punts. The Ducks haven’t had big plays on returns, but Mycah Pittman averages 10.0 yards on punt returns.
Oregon keys to victory
Foot on the gas: The Ducks have shown a tendency to play down to their opponents, allowing Fresno State, Arizona and Cal to stay in the game until the fourth quarter. Start fast and keep going and they can bury the Buffs early.
Create turnovers: Oregon is one of the best teams in the country this season in getting takeaways. Four times this season they’ve had at least three takeaways in a game. They’re also really good at cashing them in. Since the start of 2018, they rank second nationally in points off of turners, averaging 4.56 points.
Grind it out on the ground: This is a typical Ducks team that runs the ball very well, averaging 197.6 yards per game. They can also wear down opponents with the ground game, leading with the Pac-12 with 398 fourth-quarter rushing yards.
- Oregon has had no trouble scoring or running the ball against the Buffs since CU joined the Pac-12. In the seven meetings since 2011, Oregon has averaged 48.6 points, 319.7 rushing yards and 3.7 rushing touchdowns against the Buffs. The Ducks have had at least 38 points, 215 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in each of those games.
- The Ducks have the third-longest active home winning streak in the country, at 16 games. Their last loss at home was an overtime defeat against No. 7 Stanford in 2018. That’s the only time the Ducks have lost at home under Cristobal (19-1).
- Last week against UCLA, running back Travis Dye became the first player in FBS history to score touchdowns on four consecutive rushing attempts. In his career, the Ducks are 13-1 when he scores at least one touchdown. Dye also ranks 10th in Oregon history in career rushing yards (2,402).
- Receiver Johnny Johnson III has 132 career receptions and needs just two more to move into the top 10 in Oregon history. Jaylon Redd isn’t far behind, with 128 career receptions.
- A preseason first-team All-American and projected by some to be the first player selected in the 2022 NFL Draft, Kayvon Thibodeaux leads all Power 5 conference players in tackles for loss since the start of the 2019 season, with 31.