Oregon is listed a three-touchdown favorite over Colorado but, after last week’s grinding win over California, many fans would be happy if the Ducks could score three touchdowns on offense.
Colorado quarterback Steven Montez started four years ago as a freshman in a game in which the Ducks were heavily favored. When the smoke cleared, he rushed for 123 yards and threw for 345 in his first start. Pressuring Montez and keeping him from scrambling outside the pocket has got to be top priority for a defense that allowed Cal’s quarterback 59 yards in scrambling gains and several key pass completions last week.
When the Ducks are on offense, check Colorado’s defensive strategy. Cal used the blitz to pressure quarterback Justin Herbert enough that he suffered, for him, a mediocre day. His footwork and timing was off, resulting in missed targets and his first interception of the year.
Colorado has no reason to fear the Ducks’ running game. Oregon was able to score only 17 points on 64 plays against Cal, and if the Buffs' defense can rattle Herbert enough, his judgment may be affected as when he threw late into coverage on his interception against the Golden Bears.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal has three top receivers back from injuries to bolster the efforts of the excellent receivers who carried the load in their absence. The Ducks now have at least six outstanding receivers to go with several tight ends who have been productive when called upon.
What remains to be seen, though, is whether Cristobal is willing to “let those players go” as he did last week with his offensive line that came off the ball in a faster, more aggressive manner than in previous games.
Play calling in the passing game has been criticized since the opening game and part of the excuse early was that the playmakers were injured. In their absence, Jaylon Redd, Johnny Johnson III and Bryan Addison showed the talent, and focus, needed to play in the Pac-12, limited only by the number of times they were targeted. The rate of dropped balls, a disaster last year, has been greatly reduced.
The stage should be set for an aerial display when you consider several Colorado opponents have had field days passing. Last week, Arizona had 404 yards and even Air Force, for heaven’s sake, passed for 220 yards in an overtime victory over the Buffs. Unless Cristobal loosens the reins today, there’s no way the Ducks cover.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He conducts a weekly coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at the 6th Street Grill.