Tomorrow, Oregon heads to Boulder to face Colorado in the Ducks' first Pac-12 road game of the season. Ahead of the matchup, we sat down with Jack Barsch from Ralphie Report, SB Nation's Colorado Buffaloes blog, to chat about a game that should be much closer than it has in recent years.
ATQ: Colorado is off to a 3-1 start that very easily could have been a 4-0 start. What do you see as the biggest reason for that early success?
RR: The schedule. With so many cupcakes, I’m surprised the team hasn’t gained that much weight. CSU was by far the best team that the Buffs have played thus far, and they don’t look like the 10 win team of last year.
That Hawaii game would be lovely to have back, as that first half was one of the ugliest that I have seen, but you gotta deal with what you have Don’t get me wrong, recent CU teams have dropped these games, and it’s nice to act like a Power 5 team rather than just saying they are one, but they purposely started easy and hoped that they ramp it up in time for conference play.. This team is better, but given the row of nobodies, it’s hard to know how much.
ATQ: Oregon has struggled defensively, especially in the secondary. What kind of impact do you see Nelson Spruce making in this game?
RR: Hopefully he has a big one, because if not, that means CU didn’t take advantage of the biggest (read: only) advantage this game. Nelson is a quiet game changer, and the attention this year has not allowed him to be as effective, but it has allowed some of the run game to open up. If you take any plays off, or slack mentally on one route, he will burn you, and hearing about the young secondary of the Ducks, that may be a recipe for success. However, he needs someone to get him the ball first. More on that later.
ATQ: Colorado's defense has been impressive this season. Who are some of the key players the Ducks will need to figure out how to beat?
RR: I LOVE JIM LEAVITT. Let me just get that out of the way. I LOVE JIM LEAVITT. Oh, sorry, it came back again. He has completely changed the identity of the defense and made it a team that makes plays rather than tries to prevent them. It’s been fun to watch and I’m sure you will notice the change in attitude. But this isn’t about him, this is about players.
If you ask me, the best player on that side of the ball thus far has been Chidobe Awuzie. Always solid, sometimes spectacular, "Chido" has the athleticism and attitude to play on Sundays and makes plays on the line of scrimmage as a nickel back.
Staying in the secondary, Tedric Thompson is an emotional leader who plays hard in his roamer spot at SS. He was great last year when he wasn’t injured, and he’s been great this year. It’s only a matter of time before he gets an interception (watch out Lockie/Adams).
Up front, if Derek McCartney is ready to go, he will bring havoc up front. He’s great at getting in the backfield and he always keeps his head up. Let’s just skip the LB’s, shall we?
ATQ: Much like Vernon Adams, Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau is having to play through a painful injury. How do you see his shoulder holding up against Oregon? And if it becomes worse to the point where he's removed from the game, what is Colorado's backup plan?
RR: Sefo may not be many things, but you can never say he’s not tough. He plays his guts out, week after week, year after year, and he puts his body on the line. He is a natural born leader, and while his play might not be 100%, he is always all in.
The shoulder will probably not be 100%, but he will say that’s not an excuse and it’s not. You may see some passes sail on him, but Liufau is a gamer. He will play up to the level of competition, and he won’t be the reason the Buffs lose. If he eventually leaves the game, I think CU will just run the ball every play. I have no confidence in anyone behind him, and you guys saw Jordan Gehrke last year. Rather put the ball in Phillip Lindsay and Michael Adkins’s hands.
ATQ: What are your predictions for how this game plays out?
RR: Have you guys seen this spread?! 7 points?! That is insane, and this school is pumped to show the world that the Buffs are back. National game, ESPN, night game, opening conference weekend, near sellout… All the cards are lining up. Unfortunately, it’s still Oregon. CU loses this by two touchdowns, but if you look at previous years, that’s a big step up.
If they don’t embarrass themselves, they’ve made a massive improvement. If they somehow win, I will apologize already for the gloating. Sorry, it hasn’t happened a while (a conference win) and I forgot how to act afterwards.