BOULDER – Oregon ran amok Saturday afternoon at Folsom Field. Hell, these up-tempo Ducks are fast enough to walk amok and leave most teams gasping – particularly the undermanned Colorado Buffaloes.
Scoring on its first four possessions and rolling up 206 of its 343 yards rushing in the opening quarter, No. 9 Oregon overpowered CU 45-2, dropping the Buffs to 1-7 overall and 0-4 in their Pac-12 Conference debut season.
Oregon, improving to 6-1, 4-0, has lost only twice in its past 20 games – to Auburn in the 2010 BCS National Championship game and to LSU to open the 2011 season. The Ducks have won 16 consecutive Pac-12 games, including eight straight on the road.
The loss was CU’s fifth in a row and extinguished any flickering postseason hopes the Buffs might have had. To reach a bowl game for the first time since 2007, the Buffs needed seven wins in a 13-game schedule regarded by some as the nation’s most difficult.
For what it was worth, Oregon’s 45 points were 3.7 under its scoring average, and with 527 total yards, the Ducks finished 12 yards below their total offense average. But those below-average numbers were of little solace to the Buffs.
CU avoided being shut out on a “what-was-he-thinking?” third-quarter moment by Oregon returner Cliff Harris, who attempted to return a Darragh O’Neill punt after running back into his own end zone, where was engulfed by CU’s Terrel Smith, Derrick Webb and Arthur Jaffee for a safety.
In Week 8 of their 13-week meat/Buff grinder, this is what it came to:
Already injury ravaged, CU opened this game also minus safety Ray Polk (concussion, wrist, cracked sternum) and cornerback Jason Espinoza (concussion). And cornerback Travis Sandersfeld, who had hoped to return after a five-week absence due to leg injury, didn’t dress.
Due to those injuries, previous ones and suspensions in the secondary, CU’s starting corners were senior Jonathan Hawkins and freshman Greg Henderson (a seven-game starter), with senior Anthony Perkins (seven-game starter) and freshman Kyle Washington (first career start) opening at safety.
Also, freshman D.D. Goodson got a crash course on defense this week and was the Buffs’ starting nickel back - and he left the game early with an apparent concussion. Then, to add injury to mounting insult in the secondary, Perkins went down at 8:32 of the first quarter – when the Ducks were driving for their second TD – with an ankle injury. He limped from the field assisted by a pair of trainers and was replaced by freshman K.T. Tu’umalo, normally a linebacker.
Just past the midway point of the second quarter, CU lost starting quarterback Tyler Hansen, who got up woozy after a 9-yard run and was replaced on the Buffs’ final series of the half by redshirt freshman Nick Hirschman.
In addition to the other freshman who have filtered into CU’s lineup, tailback Malcolm Creer was added to the list. He carried 10 times for 31 yards, with redshirt freshman Tony Jones finishing as CU’s leading rusher (19 carries, 71 yards).
The Ducks played without No. 1 quarterback Darron Thomas and leading rusher LaMichael James, but they weren’t missed. By the end of the first quarter, Oregon had scored on its first four possessions and led 29-0 after creasing CU for more than half of its final rushing total.
Not a bad output, considering the Ducks had averaged a Pac-12-best 315 ground yards in their first six games. Oregon finished the half with 239 yards rushing and 358 in total offense – more than halfway to its 539 average.
The Ducks got their final first-half TD on a 32-yard interception return by linebacker Michael Clay, who picked off Hansen and scored with 8:10 remaining before intermission to make the halftime score 35-0. Alejandro Maldonado missed the extra point, but that mistake already had been accounted for; the Ducks were successful on a two-point conversion run by Maldonando’s holder, Jackson Rice, after their first TD.
The Buffs’ anemic starts continued. The previous weekend, CU allowed Washington six scores on its first six possessions (five TDs, a field goal) and trailed 38-10 at halftime. In eight games this season, the Buffs have been outscored 90-13 in the first quarter.
Oregon’s first-quarter scoring drives covered 80, 58, 87 and 80 yards, with the longest march requiring 2:11 and the shortest 50 seconds – that one a two-play excursion that featured an 84-yard TD sprint by freshman running back De’Anthony Thomas. It tied for the third-longest run ever against CU.
Meanwhile, the Buffs crossed midfield three times in the first half, moving only as far as the Ducks’ 36 on their deepest march.
Hirschman, who saw his first action two games ago at Stanford, opened at quarterback for CU in the second half, but the Buffs went three-and-out. The Ducks answered with a six-play, 48-yard scoring drive and went up 42-0 only 3:09 into the third quarter.
Not surprisingly, the CU student section (and others in the stadium) began a slow, unstoppable leak that significantly reduced the crowd of 52,123.
Maldonado added a 36-yard field goal with 6:25 left in the third quarter (45-0), and just under 5 minutes later Harris’ brain lock in the end zone put the Buffs on the board (45-2).
CU plays at No. 24 Arizona State next Saturday (4:30 p.m. MDT, Fox-AZ), looking to break a 21-game road losing streak that dates to 2007.