Mel Tucker’s Buffaloes will have their hands full with Justin Herbert and No. 13 Oregon

Oct 5, 2019; Boulder, CO, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mel Tucker looks on during the first quarter against the Arizona Wildcats at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In a short week after a tough loss at home, Mel Tucker has a lot on his plate leading up to Colorado’s third game against a ranked opponent this year. No. 13 Oregon (4-1), however, is a vastly more difficult opponent than either Nebraska or Arizona State. Both of those victories came against younger and more inexperienced quarterbacks.

Oregon’s Justin Herbert is the only Pac-12 quarterback with more starts than Steven Montez, with 33 starts to Montez’s 32. The senior Eugene, Oregon native also has a touchdown pass in each one of those starts and has led Oregon to a top-ten offensive efficiency rating per ESPN. Through five games this season, Herbert has amassed 1,341 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception.

The Buffaloes have been in several high-scoring affairs already this year, and the offense has often kept Colorado competitive despite the defense not being able to slow teams down. Montez even has numbers comparable to Herbert’s. The senior from El Paso, Texas has 1,463 yards to this point in the season with 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions; pretty darn good.

Colorado is rich at the receiver position and it has paid off all season as Laviska Shenault Jr. has battled through injuries. Tony Brown has been a constant work horse for the Buffaloes, leading the team in receiving with 29 catches for 442 yards and 4 touchdowns. On the other sideline, Oregon’s leading receiver is their senior tight end. The Ducks’ Jacob Breeland has 23 receptions for 352 yards and 5 scores, setting up for a long day because Colorado’s linebackers have had some difficulty covering tight ends this season.

Balance in the offensive scheme has been important to both teams even though the passing game is clearly the strength for both Oregon and Colorado. Oregon’s CJ Verdell averages 4.3 yards per carry and Alex Fontenot of the Buffaloes averages 4.5. Both are sophomores and their success in the running game could be a deciding factor. Verdell suffered a sprained ankle against Cal last week, but is currently listed as probable on the injury report for Friday. Colorado freshman Jaren Mangham has shared time at tailback with Fontenot and he averages 4.0 yards per carry, so keep an eye out for him as well.

So, both offenses score an average of over 34 points per game, and the Buffaloes should have several key players returning from injury. Still, Colorado is a 20.5 point underdog early in the week.

The real difference is the defense. Colorado has struggled all season to play sound defensively and has given up big plays time and time again. The Buffaloes are allowing an average of 31.6 points per game and 470.6 yards per contest. The Ducks, on the other hand, have only given up 261.4 yards per game and 9.8 points allowed per. There has only been one touchdown surrendered by the Oregon defense in their last four games.

But Colorado is different than the teams Oregon held to single digits. They have played through adversity and fought for each other to win several close games, one in overtime. They have the motivating factor of two winnable games that resulted in losses. Colorado will need some relief from the injury bug and an inspired defensive effort to keep the contest with Oregon competitive.

Mel Tucker had an extra week before Arizona, but injuries and penalties were the Buffs’ downfall. Now, facing the first place team in the Pac-12 North, more mistakes could bring Colorado to an even 3-3 record after starting the season strong beating rivals Nebraska and Colorado State in back to back weeks. But, if Tucker and the Buffaloes come to Eugene prepared and execute at a high level during the course of the evening, they could hand the Ducks their only loss since Week 1 against Auburn.

The game will be broadcast Friday October 11th at 8:00 PM (MT) on FS1.

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