By SPENCER McLAUGHLIN
Contributor, 750 The Game
Colorado enters this week 122nd in total defense nationally, allowing 460 yards per game. They’ve played a TCU team that knows how to score, a Nebraska team that doesn’t do much offensively, and a Colorado State team expected to be middle of the pack in the Mountain West.
Oregon should be expected to score plenty of points on Saturday at Autzen Stadium. They racked up 38 against Texas Tech on the road (thanks to a late defensive TD) and against two inferior opponents, have been close to godliness at home. Plus, the Buffs will be without Travis Hunter who has been a lockdown corner for them this season. Against a loaded lineup of Oregon wideouts, that should lead to plenty of chances to score.
The Ducks are favored by around 21 points heading into the matchup as they’ve moved inside the AP Top 10 –at No. 10– leading into this week. This game is a chance to prove that they’re worthy of being the third Pac-12 team to be considered among the 10 best in college football right now. To really put their stamp on this game, it will come down to the defense.
I know, where have we heard that before in the last calendar year for Dan Lanning’s team? They’ve shown real signs of growth this year through their three wins. The secondary looks faster. The linebackers are making impact plays. The defensive line is more physical and is having more success generating pressure on opposing QBs. Those were all ways I thought they could improve on that side of the ball for this season.
So far so good. But this is a different test, especially for the secondary.
Defensive lines can help out their DBs by disrupting the flow of the offense and not asking them to cover for as long. Against Colorado, however, that will be a challenge. Not because the Buffs have a great offensive line — they don’t. Shedeur Sanders has been sacked 16 times in 3 games this season.
So why might it be hard? Sean Lewis.
That’s Colorado’s offensive coordinator, formerly the head coach of the Kent State Golden Flashes. He had success over there but came to be the Buffs’ offensive coordinator – and he’s doing a great job. Shedeur Sanders is one of the leading passers in the country as the conductor of a well-designed offense. They succeeded in the quick passing game against TCU and have done so in the last two games as well. If I’m Sean Lewis, I recognize my offensive line is going to be outmatched against the Ducks more than against any previous team and dial up a heavy dose of the quick passing attack. It’s a good way to get your QB settled down in a hostile environment and to neutralize a pass rush.
The Buffs don’t run the ball much, just 61.0 yards per game this season, so I expect to see quick hitters and swing passes as their version of the run game. Play to your strengths.
Shedeur Sanders threw his first interception of the year last week against Colorado State on a ball that was, at one point, in his receiver’s hands. His decision-making is excellent week after week. The Ducks shouldn’t expect to be able to force 4 turnovers like they did against Tyler Shough down in Lubbock. A turnover or two could really help swing the score in Oregon’s favor. But I think their success defensively will depend on their ability to cover Colorado’s WRs straight up and tackle in space.
Who would have thought this would be a top-20 showdown of unbeaten football teams? I certainly didn’t. But anything that can raise a game’s profile for Oregon is a positive for the Ducks.
Prediction: Oregon 48, Colorado 27.
Spencer McLaughlin is an Oregon Ducks football contributor to 750 The Game. He also hosts the “Locked On Oregon Ducks” and “Locked On Pac-12” podcasts and has work featured throughout the season here.