Calling them underdogs would be an understatement.
Las Vegas betting odds hold Oregon as 32 point favorites against CU for the two schools first meeting since the 2002 Fiesta Bowl.
The high-flying Ducks’ offense is ranked third in the nation, scoring a staggering 48.7 points per game. They have a running game that yields over 315 rushing yards per game — good enough for fifth in the nation.
Oregon’s LaMichael James leads the FBS in rushing average with over 170 yards a game. Luckily for Colorado, James status is currently listed as questionable after he suffered a dislocated elbow against Cal.
However, with the loss of leading tackler Doug Rippy for the season, the already banged up defense may have trouble containing Oregon backups Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas, who have proven more than capable of shredding defenses.
With James out last week, Oregon was still able to do a lot of damage on the ground as Barner racked up 171 yards alone last week against ASU and Thomas had two rushing touchdowns. Coach Jon Embree took notice.
“No, and no disrespect to LaMichael, he’s a great back, but Oregon is at the point where they put in some guys like that and they keep the production up,” Embree said. “I believe they had almost the same amount of yardage [last week] as their average was.”
The Ducks’ Darron Thomas, who is also listed as questionable for this game, can throw as well as any quarterback, but what makes him special is his ability to run the ball as well. He’s thrown for 17 touchdowns and rushed for two more.
Unlike James, Darron Thomas expects to play against the Buffs.
Embree, who’s had his hands full trying to put together an adequate defense with key players missing, knows how large of a task it will be to stop whoever steps onto the field for Oregon.
“Oregon, it is not just their offense, it is their whole team,” Embree said. “The thing that jumps out about them is their speed. They run, essentially, option football, so you have to be assignment conscience and we have to be very disciplined on defense to limit big plays and try to force them into situations where we can have the upper hand on the defensive side.”
Given how loaded Oregon is offensively and the way that Colorado’s defense has limped through games these past few weeks, the Buffaloes’ injury problems may outweigh their opponents. Not only are several key starters missing on defense, but the offense is reeling too.
The Buffs offense is missing several key players, like receiver Paul Richardson, who would add some much needed ammo for CU.
Last week, tailback Rodney Stewart went down with a dislocated knee in the opening quarter against Washington. Without him on the field, a large part of the offense is missing. Quarterback Tyler Hansen knows this and will have to adjust to playing without his favorite target.
“I’ll miss him a lot,” Hansen said at a press conference. “You can do a lot of different thing with ‘Speedy.’ He’s going to hurt your offense. I don’t know the percentages, but he’s a big part of our offense. We use him in a lot of ways. When he’s out it’s going to limit you, it’s going to change the ways you use certain people. It changes your mentality on offense.”
To replace Stewart is freshman running back Tony Jones. So far this season, Jones has rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns in five games. While he may not be Stewart, Jones should prove to be an effective weapon against Oregon.
“He’s a good back, a real good back,” complimented Hansen. “He’s a different player than Rodney is. He’s more of a downhill guy. He’ll get north and south real quick, which is a nice change-up from what we’ve had. Also, he’s a good receiver, a lot like Rodney.”
Jones said he has been preparing all week for his role by getting to know the system better and working on the little things in his game.
“There’s always stuff you need to improve on, especially the game of football in college,” Jones said at a press conference. “I need to focus on my blocks, and just really focus on my key points that I really need to get me through this game.”
According to the freshman, the team has to come together to have any chance at the upset.
“You always have to have pride,” Jones said. “You need to have pride in your team. I pretty much have pride in all my players and we all pretty much stick together. We’re all a family.”
Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, October 22 at 1:30 p.m. on Folsom Field.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Shay Knolle at firstname.lastname@example.org.