Buffaloes stampeded UO 41-38 during 2016 visit to Autzen Stadium
It was the best of times for Colorado, it was the worst of times for Oregon in the Pac-12 era.
Entering the 2016 meeting at Autzen Stadium, the Buffaloes had been outscored 260-75 and were 0-5 against the Ducks since the conference expanded to 12 teams.
Oregon’s 41-38 loss in the conference opener three years ago set the tone for a 2-7 finish in the Pac-12.
Colorado’s breakthrough road win led to a South Division title and the program’s only winning season since joining the conference.
“It was my first Pac-12 loss in my career ever, and it’s still one of the only teams I haven’t beat in my career,” senior linebacker Troy Dye said. “It was a real heartbreaking loss. That loss really did turn that season into the season that it was because of the way we handled that loss and the way we handled that adversity.”
Dye will see one haunting face when No. 13 Oregon plays Colorado on Friday at Autzen Stadium (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
Steven Montez is still leading the offensive stampede for the Buffaloes (3-2, 1-1).
During the previous meeting, Montez produced 468 yards of total offense with three touchdown passes and a touchdown run.
Montez, then a redshirt freshman getting the start for an injured Sefo Liufau, became the first player in Colorado history to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 in the same game at the expense of Brady Hoke’s assailable unit.
“It kind of still feels like a dream,” Montez recalled of his memorable performance at Autzen. “It was kind of crazy. It was like an out of body experience.”
Oregon’s defense plans to offer significantly more resistance in the rematch.
Through five games under first-year coordinator Andy Avalos, the Ducks are sixth nationally in points allowed (9.8 per game) and seventh in yards allowed (261.4 per game).
Colorado, which fired Mike MacIntyre in 2018 and hired Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, is third in the Pac-12 in passing yards (300.2 per game) and fourth in scoring (34.6 per game).
“Absolutely. I think you have to have awareness of what happened the last time Colorado visited Autzen Stadium,” coach Mario Cristobal said of some of his seniors using the previous meeting as motivation, even though the coaching staff and most of the players weren’t around. “They played a heck of a game. Look, I watch these guys on tape thoroughly, I know Mel Tucker really well, we go back, we’re colleagues. It’s a tough football team that’s really 10 points away from being undefeated and having a ranking in the Top 25 somewhere.
“So we’re fully aware of what they bring to the table and the fact that they have gone into packed stadiums before and have found ways to win. Tremendous amount of respect for them, and that’s why we have to continue to be at our very best on Friday.”
There is a chance star wide receiver Laviska Shenault, who was out during last week’s 35-30 loss to Arizona with a core muscle injury, could play against the Ducks.
“Adding Laviska to it is crazy,” cornerback Thomas Graham said of Colorado’s talented group of skill players. “I said this last year about (Arizona State receiver) N’Keal Harry. (Shenault) with the ball in his hands is amazing. He’s a running back playing receiver with the ball in his hands. He does a lot of stuff after the catch.
“That’s the very scary part about him. The only way you can stop him is not allowing him to get the ball or gang tackling him. He’s a problem. he’s a very big problem.”
Justin Herbert watched helplessly from the sideline in 2016 as Dakota Prukop’s fade pass to Darren Carrington on the goal line was intercepted by Ahkello Witherspoon to seal the Buffaloes’ win.
After another loss at Washington State the next weekend, Herbert became the starting quarterback as a true freshman.
Herbert, who extended his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 33 during last week’s 17-7 win over California, could have a Montez-like performance against Colorado’s wounded secondary.
The Buffaloes are allowing 31.6 points (102nd), 470.6 total yards (116th) and 313.6 passing yards (124th) per game.
Tucker’s squad has lost two of its top cornerbacks, Mekhi Blackmon and Chris Miller, to season-ending injuries. True freshman cornerback KJ Trujillo is in line to make his first career start. Safeties Aaron Maddox (leg) and Mikial Onu (torso) are not 100% healthy.
Three injured Oregon wide receivers — Juwan Johnson, Mycah Pittman and Brenden Schooler — returned to the rotation against Cal.
“He's one of those players that can do everything,” Tucker, who worked with Cristobal as Alabama assistants in 2015, said of Herbert. “It's going to be hard to to find holes in his game when he moves on to the next level.”
Oregon is a 21-point favorite, but the Buffaloes have already knocked off two ranked opponents (then-No. 25 Nebraska and then-No. 24 Arizona State) in Tucker’s first season, matching the program’s total over the previous nine seasons.
There were nine lead changes last week between Arizona and Colorado in what was a surprising battle for first place in the South Division.
The Ducks (4-1, 2-0) are alone at the top of the North Division standings, two games clear of Cal (4-2, 1-2), Stanford (3-3, 2-2), Washington (4-2, 1-2) and Washington State (3-2, 0-2) in the loss column.
Oregon State (2-3, 1-1) is in second place.
Follow Ryan Thorburn on Twitter @RGDuckFootball and email podcast mailbag questions to email@example.com. For more Oregon sports coverage, visit DuckSports.com.