Two weeks from now, the No. 2 Oregon Ducks will play host to the Colorado Buffaloes at Autzen Stadium in Eugene (November 22, 2014).
For fans of tight defense, this will be a game to miss. (Oregon averages 46 points per game – fourth-best in the nation – while surrendering 25. Meanwhile, Colorado averages 29.8 while giving up 38.6 – seventh-worst in the nation.)
Likewise for fans of close games. The Oregon Ducks (9-1, 6-1 Pac-12) are the top team in the Pac-12 and have dominated five straight conference games after a surprise loss to Arizona early in the season. The situation for Colorado could scarcely be different. The Buffaloes (2-8, 0-7 Pac-12) have not managed a single conference victory all year (though they did take both California and UCLA to double-overtime).
Leading the charge for Oregon is junior QB and Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota. The potential #1 overall NFL draft pick has thrown for 2,780 yards and 29 touchdowns on the year, while tossing just two interceptions. Opponents can’t simply drop back into coverage – or bring all-out blitzes – to stop Mariota though, as the mobile pivot can hurt you with his legs as well as his arm. Mariota has racked up 524 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground to go with his impressive passing numbers.
While Mariota has been having a remarkable year, it would be naive to think that the Oregon offense is a one-man show. Royce Freeman, a 6’1″, 229 lb. running back, has 945 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his freshman season. And though the defense has surrendered both yards and points at a concerning rate, it has also come up big at times and has 22 takeaways on the season. With Mariota protecting the ball like it’s his first-born, the Ducks have a +15 turnover margin (second-best in the country), which has allowed the offense to out-pace opponents.
All of the above has the Ducks well positioned to make the inaugural four-team College Football Playoffs. In the most recent poll, Oregon moved up one spot to No. 2, passing still-undefeated Florida State. The jump in the rankings followed Oregon’s impressive 51-27 road win over then-No. 17 Utah. The Ducks have this weekend off and, as a result, should come into the Colorado game still sitting at No. 2.
In the Buffaloes’ most recent game, they put up a fight for three quarters against then-No. 19 Arizona, but couldn’t keep pace with the Wildcats for the full 60, giving up two fourth quarter touchdowns en route to a 38-20 loss. The same problems that have hampered Colorado all season reared their ugly heads again against Arizona; the Buffs turned the ball over four times (bringing their turnover margin to -9 on the year) and gave up nearly 500 total yards (upping their season average to 449 yards per game).
Come November 22, Colorado may be able to trade blows with the Ducks for a while, but look for turnovers to spell the end of any upset hopes and the Ducks to pull away in the second half, if not earlier.
(Photo credit: John Martinez Pavliga (Flickr: IMG_0020) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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