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Colorado vs. Oregon Preview: Three big questions for the Buffs

The Buffs and Ducks play on Saturday at 1:30 pm on ABC.

NCAA Football: Colorado State at Colorado Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports

If this is the last time the Buffs head up to Autzen for a while, at least they’re going out with a banger. How they’re going to move on past the emotions of last weekend and onto arguably their toughest road game of the whole season is beyond me, but it’s not going to end at 130 in the morning, so it’s already a great game in my opinion. There’s more than a few interesting story lines on Saturday afternoon, but here’s what I’m thinking about while running errands:

1. How bad of a day is the run defense about to have?

To give the Buffs some credit, last week was technically the run D’s best game of the year. CSU barely got over 100 yards (102 net), and no one had more than Avery Morrow’s 57. They don’t run the ball nearly as efficiently as Oregon does, though it’s not like they’re exactly trying to either. You take wins where you can get them, and keeping CSU below three yards per attempt all night feels like a win, even if it didn’t necessarily always look like one.

But reader, I’m a little worried this week may not look or feel like a win. Oregon has one of the most efficient offenses in the country – 2nd in SP+, to be specific. The only offense the Buffs have played that gets even remotely close to that is TCU, currently ranked 17th. It falls off even more for Nebraska (83) and Colorado State (125). At home (against Portland State and Hawaii, admittedly) the Ducks are averaging almost 8.5 yards per carry and have scored 10 times. The good news is that if the run D has a disastrous day, at least the clock will be running.

2. What does losing Travis Hunter really look like?

Though the Buffs played most of the CSU game without Hunter, it’ll be fascinating to see how their offense looks after their first true week without him. The offense will probably be fine? On the numbers alone, Hunter’s basically been their #3 this year. Even without him, Shedeur Sanders still has his go-to possession guy in Jimmy Horn Jr. and Xavier Weaver over the top. It’s obviously not the same offense – and it’s definitely not better – but all the aforementioned guys plus Dylan Edwards, Michael Harrison, and maybe a random cameo or two, are still plenty good enough to keep up in Eugene.

If Shilo Sanders and Trevor Woods can keep forcing multiple turnovers per game, maybe the secondary will be fine too. But that’s a big if against Bo Nix, who has competed 77 percent of his passes and hasn’t thrown a pick yet. Hunter won’t be there to blanket his side of the field and we don’t even know who’s going to start opposite Omarion Cooper. Nix probably would have had a day against the Buffs anyway, especially if Colorado’s pass rush proves ineffective against a standout Oregon line.

3. Are the Buffs ever getting a running back breakout game?

Here’s what Coach Prime had to say about running the ball after the CSU:

“We’re not running the ball. We can’t do something we can’t forcefully do. I mean, we’re not successful in running, we got it. That’s the attitude. That’s the attitude. That’s just the straight attitude that we’re gonna run the ball and you’re not gonna stop us. That’s a darn attitude. We got to develop that attitude sooner or later, and preferably sooner than later.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it sounds like maybe Alton McCaskill may be close to his debut. Granted, if the middle of the Buffs’ line keeps playing the way they are, it may not matter a whole lot. But McCaskill gives the offense a new wrinkle, and Oregon’s run defense hasn’t been great so far. Chewing up clock and keeping the offense off the field is the go-to recipe for playing close road games and I’m sure Shedeur Sanders would love to stop getting sacked six times a game.