The formula for No. 13 Oregon is a simple one each week: play swarming, lockdown defense and let quarterback Justin Herbert cook in the passing game. When it works to perfection, as it did on Friday night in a 45-3 rout of visiting Colorado, it makes you think that all that talk about the Ducks being the Pac-12’s lone College Football Playoff hope has something to it.
Not everything went Oregon’s way with a host of key players going down along the way but it was still the team’s best overall effort of the season against a Power Five opponent and could carry a lot of weight going into a huge matchup against rival Washington next weekend in Seattle.
In front of a number of NFL general managers and over two dozen scouts, Herbert was sharp in throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns. His numbers would have been better had there not been a few drops and the score not gotten out of hand early but he once again looked like the first round caliber signal-caller many expected to see this season. His strong start helped loosen the Buffs defense and allowed UO’s offensive line to take over the rest of the game, paving the way for a ground attack that rolled over their opponent as things wore on.
C.J. Verdell played a big role in that as the tailback racked up 171 yards on just 14 carries, looking quite healthy after leaving last week’s game against Cal with a minor injury. Cyrus Habibi-Likio vultured three touchdowns from his fellow tailback while Jaylon Redd scored on the ground and through the air (four catches, 75 yards and the score receiving).
Defensively, the Ducks were as good as they have been all season in posting four turnovers (leading to 21 points the other way) and limiting a pretty good Colorado offense to just 299 yards. There was some concern on the injury front however, as Herbert’s top target in TE Jacob Breeland was injured going out of bounds (later seen on crutches) and safety Jevon Holland (seen with a boot on in the second half) got hit by his own man and exited the field on a cart.
There was actually some good news for the Buffs despite the final score as they got back top receiver Laviska Shenault from injury. His impact was limited to just four catches for 70 yards in limited action though as the passing game was tough to watch at times. QB Steven Montez tossed a career-high four interceptions (on just nine throws over the 2nd and 3rd quarters) and finished with just 131 yards passing. The rushing attack did average close to five yards a carry at one point but the margin was so great that it didn’t really matter as the team dropped to. 500 on the year.
Oregon, meanwhile, improved to 5-1 on the season to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Pac-12 North. They remain the league’s best hope of making a dint in the national radar, even if the injury report wound up being a little longer than Mario Cristobal would like coming out of an easy win over a conference rival.
A host of NFL scouts and general managers showed up at Autzen Stadium on Friday night and wouldn’t you know it, they were treated to a pair of potential first rounders racking up a few yards.
Colorado’s star receiver Laviska Shenault returned to the Buffs starting lineup but couldn’t quite help his team keep pace No. 13 Oregon and quarterback Justin Herbert as the Ducks took a comfortable 24-3 lead into the halftime break of some Pac-12 after dark action in Eugene.
The Ducks racked up well over 300 yards in the first two quarters, with most of that coming on the arm of their senior signal-caller. Herbert was dealing dimes all over the field and finished the half with 225 yards and a touchdown, numbers that would have been better if not for a few drops. His ability to stretch the field helped open things up on the ground as well, with C.J. Verdell (back in the lineup after an injury limited him last week against Cal) netting 77 yards on just eight carries plus a pair of his backups finding the end zone as well.
The news wasn’t all good for Oregon however, as the injury tent stayed busy throughout the game. Safety Javon Holland was carted off after a hit from his own man while making a tackle while TE Jacob Breeland was ruled out for the rest of the game after taking a hit along the sidelines. Both members are key players on either side of the ball for the Ducks.
The Buffs, meanwhile, got their best player back into the starting lineup but it didn’t do much in terms of the scoreboard. Shenault did haul in three catches for a team-high 46 yards but QB Steven Montez barely had any time to throw and tossed a red zone interception off a deflection late in the half that would have closed the gap.
Instead the Ducks took the ball down the field and extended their lead. We’ve seen some wild things happen in Pac-12 country during these late Friday games but so far things are going as expected between the league’s lone Playoff contender and a rebuilding squad out of Boulder.
After getting banged up in their most recent game, Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson will be game-time decisions when Arizona comes to Boulder, Colorado this weekend.
Colorado head coach Mel Tucker confirmed that will be the call for both players on Monday when speaking to the media.
“Those guys will be game-time decisions,” Tucker said, according to The Denver Post. “Hopefully, those guys will continue to progress.”
It would certainly boost Colorado’s chances if their progress does improve. They are two of the top players Colorado has on the roster.
Shenault has 17 receptions for 226 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions along with a rushing touchdown this season. Johnson has just 12 tackles this fall, but three of those have been for a sack. He has also returned a fumble for a touchdown.
Shenault left Colorado’s win against Arizona State with an undisclosed injury and returned to the sideline in street clothes for the second half of the game. Johnson injured his ankle in the same game.
Mel Tucker has already delivered a signature non-conference win over a ranked team, now the new Colorado head coach has his first signature conference win over a ranked team.
The Buffs survived the loss of superstar receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. after just two series to notch a surprising road victory over No. 24 Arizona State 34-31 in yet another thriller late at night in the Pac-12.
Bouncing back from a loss last week to Air Force, quarterback Steven Montez played fantastic for CU in throwing for 337 yards and three touchdowns in the upset. The veteran signal-caller didn’t seem to miss his All-American caliber wideout on the outside largely due to the play of opposite number Tony Brown, who turned in a career performance with 150 yards and all three of those scores through the air. K.D. Nixon added six catches for 98 yards as well as the passing game was clicking against a pretty stingy defense coming into the weekend.
Alex Fontenot chipped in with 89 yards rushing and a score despite being banged up himself on a night to remember in the conference opener for both sides.
Freshman quarterback Jayden Daniels did his best to keep the Sun Devils undefeated but it just wasn’t enough as he threw incomplete in the final two minutes to end any hope of a comeback. All told he threw for 345 yards, two scores and a pick while forming a lovely tandem with Brandon Aiyuk, who had 122 of those yards receiving plus a touchdown. Eno Benjamin was mostly bottled up on the ground to force the air show for ASU, with the all-Pac-12 tailback recording a below average 83 yards but finding the end zone twice.
The result left the Pac-12 South without any undefeated teams just four weeks into the 2019 campaign and a surprising USC squad atop the league standings in the division after their win on Friday night against Utah. The Utes and Sun Devils were the South’s only ranked teams but each lost on the same weekend while the Buffs could find themselves back in the polls as a result of the hard fought victory in Tempe.
Just another wild night in the Pac-12 it seems, something Tucker has apparently already gotten used to just four games into his tenure in the Flat Irons.
Colorado’s best player appears done for the night with an injury but that’s not stopping the Buffs from playing well on the road in a little Saturday night #Pac12AfterDark action, holding tight with a lead against freshly ranked No. 24 Arizona State 24-21 heading into halftime.
CU wideout Laviska Shenault Jr. played in the first series and part of a second one before leaving the field, not returning to action with an undisclosed injury to the superstar receiver who has been the focal point of the team’s offense ever since he stepped on campus. Steven Montez surprisingly didn’t seem phased by the absence however, throwing for 196 yards and two touchdowns as the Buffs were stopped only by a fumble in the first half. The run game didn’t have a ton of sustained success but did wind up with 73 on the ground behind Alex Fontenot’s hard running and short trip to the end zone.
While the defense appeared to be an issue for Herm Edwards‘ Sun Devils, the offense seemed to move the ball a lot better than they did last week at Michigan State (not exactly shocking given the Spartans stellar play defensively). Young QB Jayden Daniels wasn’t super accurate but did put up 202 yards and a touchdown on just 13 completions, the majority of which all went to speedster Brandon Aiyuk (five catches, 97 yards and a score). Eno Benjamin was fairly quiet (29 yards rushing) but did score twice on two short runs, one of which saw him leap toward the corner to sneak it in past the pylon.
While it will be a big storyline to monitor regarding Shenault’s return (or lack thereof), this one is shaping up to be a fun one out in the desert with key Pac-12 South implications for both sides in what is proving to be a wild weekend in the league out West.